After intensive training in Cambodia in January, ten Ethiopian health care workers and program managers have returned to Addis Ababa, where for the first time they are offering life-saving treatment to patients with drug-resistant TB.
The Ethiopian medical workers‚Ä"eight doctors, a pharmacist and a nurse‚Ä"received hands-on training in the diagnosis and management of drug-resistant TB from doctors and healthcare workers from the Cambodian Health Committee(CHC)/Global Health Committee and the Cambodian National TB Program. The training was led by Dr. Sok Thim, CHC's Executive Director, along with Dr. Mao Tan Eang, director of the Cambodian National TB program. The program was supported in part by the Annenberg Foundation.¬†
The mentoring continued after the workers returned home, where they were joined by an international team from the CHC/GCH, who helped to initiate the treatment program that had been previously unavailable in Ethiopia. Ten patients are now receiving the antibiotic regimen necessary to cure their disease, thanks to a unique collaboration between doctors in both countries, the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, and the CHC/GHC.
A growing problem worldwide, drug-resistant TB springs up when antibiotic treatment for conventional TB is interrupted, the medicines are of poor quality or are not used correctly. Once it arises, drug-resistant TB can spread from person to person. In poor countries, the costs of necessary laboratory tests to determine drug resistance and second-line antibiotic treatment are beyond the reach of most people. As a result, the vast majority of people in the world with drug-resistant TB get no treatment whatsoever.
The GHC aims to change this by building up local health care infrastructure and providing medicines to bring drug-resistant TB treatment to people who need it wherever they are. To do this, they are adapting the methods pioneered over the last decade in Cambodia to help other poor countries.¬†
"In Cambodia we have developed a community-based approach to drug-resistant TB that is working extremely well to achieve universal access in the country for drug-resistant TB care," says Dr. Sok Thim, CHC's Executive Director. "We currently have 120 patients on drug-resistant TB therapy. Our experience suggests a powerful international model for drug-resistant TB care, and we welcomed this chance to transfer knowledge and approaches directly between our two countries that face similar challenges in fighting drug-resistant TB."
Treating drug-resistant TB requires multiple antibiotics given for up to two years. The CHC used funds provided by the Jolie-Pitt Foundation to purchase some of the medicines to treat the first Ethiopian patients. In addition, pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly and Company donated ten courses of one of one antibiotics, capreomycin. Later this year, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health hopes to receive antibiotics for an additional 45 patients through Green Light Committee of the World Health Organization.
"Until this collaboration, there was no access to the medicines needed to treat even one patient with drug-resistant TB in Ethiopia," says Anne Goldfeld, co-founder of CHC and GHC and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Thanks to the support of our generous sponsors, we can now say that has changed. But these patients are only a fraction of those who need treatment. The GHC will continue to do whatever it takes to obtain the necessary medicines and provide access to care for all of the estimated 6000 Ethiopians with drug-resistant TB."