What can the world’s richest man learn from a young African woman? According to a recent blog post titled, “Let’s Make TB History,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates explains that he admires the tenacity of 29-year-old South African Simbongile Xeshato and was inspired by her successful recovery from tuberculosis (TB).
“Last year, Simbongile, a young mother living outside of Cape Town, learned she was infected with drug-resistant TB and started the difficult road to recovery. Her story is heartbreaking, but she is among the lucky ones. In 2015, nearly 600,00 people fell ill from drug resistant TB treatment worldwide. Just one in five received treatment,” he notes.
In its 2016 global report on TB, the World Health Organisation (WHO) observes that the disease is one of the top ten causes of death worldwide. In 2015, 10.4 million people were affected by the disease, up from 9.6 million in 2014. 1.8 million died from TB, including 400,000 among people with HIV.
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India leads the pack of six countries that account for 60 percent of TB cases. The other five nations are South Africa, Indonesia, China, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
Road to Recovery
In October 2016, the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) declared that Simbongile was completely cured after undergoing treatment for TB. WHO states that TB can be treated and cured, though it acknowledges that treatment can be difficult and the disease can quickly spread, leading to death.
Simbongile contracted a drug resistant strain of the disease called Extensively Drug-Resistant TB from her boyfriend who passed away in May.
“Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis is a severe case of the disease caused by bacteria that do not respond to the most effective second-line anti-TB drugs, often leaving patients without any further treatment options. Twenty-eight percent of patients are currently [being] successfully treated,” reads the report.
In 2015, nearly 600,00 people fell ill from drug resistant TB treatment worldwide, with only one in five receiving treatment. This is why Gates cites Simbongile’s case as motivation for curbing the spread of the disease.
“Stories like Simbongile’s, however, are a powerful reminder that TB is still an active threat and the world is in dire need for new innovations to prevent and treat it. By investing more in research and development, I know it will be possible to create a new generation of TB drugs and develop a new and effective TB vaccine,” he writes.
“I witnessed this firsthand in 2009, when I visited the King George V TB Hospital in Durban, South Africa. I met a woman with HIV who had been diagnosed with a highly drug-resistant type of TB. She told us about the despair she felt when she learned she had such a dangerous form of the disease.”
In his recent blog post, the billionaire philanthropist says that the world can eradicate the problem that TB poses.
“While the impact of drug-resistant TB is a serious problem, the vast majority of TB cases are drug sensitive, meaning they can be cured effectively with medicines so long as they are taken properly. Drug resistance [diseases] emerge because of incorrect prescriptions by health providers, low-quality drugs, and patients stopping treatment prematurely. That’s why the best way to prevent drug resistance is to improve TB testing and treatment programs for drug-sensitive cases. TB is not a disease of the past, but if the world works together to fight it, I have no doubt it can be.”