South Africa battles drug-resistant TB

TB_picture

South Africa is battling to reduce its cases of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) with the success rate for those on treatment at about 40 percent.

CAPE TOWN, Mar 12 2014 (IPS) – Despite an increase in diagnosis times, South Africa is facing a growing drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) burden as nationally there remains a large gap between the number of patients diagnosed with multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and those who start treatment.

Between 2007 and 2012, recorded cases of MDR-TB, which is resistant to at least two of the primary drugs used to combat standard TB, almost doubled.

South Africa has improved its ability to test for drug-resistant TB by introducing GeneXpert, a rapid testing machine that can diagnose TB in sputum samples in less than two hours.

But in 2012, just 42 percent of patients diagnosed with MDR-TB began treatment, according to government figures. The success rate for those on treatment is about 40 percent.

“If we don’t do something about it now, MDR-TB is going to become XDR-TB [extensively drug-resistant TB],” Dr. Jennifer Hughes, a drug-resistant TB doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), told IPS. XDR-TB is a strain of TB resistant to at least four of the main TB drugs.

“If we don’t start focusing on how we treat XDR-TB properly as well, we’re just going to drive further and further resistance as we go.”

Read the full article at IPS.

Jozi

ImageGrowing up in Cape Town I seldom heard a good word about Joburg. The city was commonly denigrated for not having a coastline and for being a hotbed for hijacking, murder and robbery.

But lately I’ve also heard good things. Particularly, how welcoming people are, unlike the insular Cape Town set.

At times I’ve flitted with moving to Joburg and trying to seek my fortune among the rest of the people hustling in the city space. Through work and travel I’ve become increasingly attracted to world cities and the urge to know Joburg has grown ever stronger.

Today was the fourth of a five-day trip to the city of gold. A break from Cape Town, a chance to watch Bruce Springsteen rocking the FNB stadium, and a chance to explore the city spaces. Newtown, Braamfontein and the rest. It was also an opportunity to get robbed.

I pulled up to a red light in Newtown at about noon, window rolled halfway down, driving alone, on my way back from Museum Africa. Out the corner of my eye I saw two guys at the window. “I don’t want to hurt you,” said one. “But give it.”

The second guy was standing right behind him. I’m still not sure if they were holding weapons. Could have been since the guy in front seemed to be holding something under his shirt. Automatically, I reached for my wallet and handed it to them. That wasn’t enough. They also wanted my phone, which I handed over, meek as a lamb.

After parting with my valuables I pulled off, and immediately began beating myself up for not checking to see if they had weapons, and for not just dropping the car into first and pulling away before they could rob me. I could have been a lot tougher about the whole thing. Not an easy victim.

The rest of the day was consumed by an unmemorable wash of admin: cancelling bankcards, getting my sim card blocked, changing passwords for email and twitter.

Jozi screwed me today. Part of me wants to write the city off and not give it another chance. But that would be shortsighted. I have the feeling I’ll be back, hopefully a little more streetwise. And since I met someone minutes after he’d been stabbed during a mugging on the path up to the car park from Sandy Bay in Cape Town last Wednesday, I can’t say I feel much safer in the mother city either.

Pills, patents, profits

Here’s my latest article for The Big Issue on how patent laws help keep the profits rolling in for multinational pharmaceutical corporations. It delves into how some of the proposed changes to South Africa’s patent granting system could alter the pharmaceutical landscape in future.

Pills and profits_The Big Issue

Writers feel the fear

This year, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified documents about American digital spying, we’ve come to learn that big brother is definitely watching. As revelations about the NSA and the U.S.’ massive digital spying regime continue to surface it’s become increasingly clear that the majority of digital communications are anything but private.

A common analogy is that one should think of emails as “postcards” that can be read by anyone instead of letters sealed in envelopes that only the recipient can view.

The reality of digital surveillance and its scope is starting to hit American writers who, according to a new report by PEN America, are beginning to censor themselves, either through being reluctant to write about certain topics or being reluctant to contact sources they believe they will put in danger.

As the report (based on a survey of 520 writers) highlights, 1 in 6 of the writers surveyed avoided writing or speaking on a topic they thought would subject them to surveillance. Writers reported self-censoring on subjects “including military affairs, the Middle East North Africa region, mass incarceration, drug policies, pornography, the Occupy movement, the study of certain languages, and criticism of the U.S. government.”

One respondent explained how the extra precautions taken to protect sources, like meeting in person instead of talking over the phone, “remind me of my days as Moscow Bureau Chief of [a major news outlet] under Communism, when to communicate with dissidents and refuseniks we had to avoid substantive phone conversations, meet in person in public, etc.”

Censorship strangles intellectual thought and limits oppositional viewpoints. When journalists and writers start to steer clear of sensitive topics, either for fear of their own safety or that of their sources, public understanding suffers.
As the PEN report notes: “We will never know what books or articles may have been written that would have shaped the world’s thinking on a particular topic if they are not written because potential authors are afraid that their work would invite retribution.”

While it’s clear that digital communication is easy to intercept, and this reality is frightening to those who value privacy, there are tools, such as email encryption, that journalists and others who care about their right to freedom of expression can use to make their communications more secure. In the age of digital surveillance, writers have a responsibility – to themselves, their readers and their sources – to be informed of ways to stay secure and private online.

Hugging strangers

This evening I walked along the coast, long after the sun had died. I came across four friends who asked me if I was German. One of them had a guitar. I said I wasn’t German, but had spent some time there. I asked the guy with the guitar to play for me. He wanted to sing John Legend’s ‘Ordinary People’ but didn’t want to sing it to me. “Not the kind of song to sing to a guy.”

I asked him to sing it to the woman who was with him instead. He did; the whole song. She sang some parts, and so did the other guy who was with them. I just stood there and listened to them all. It was the best few minutes of my day. When the singer/guitarist finished I clapped, shook his hand, and hugged him. The three of them said they’d see me in Germany and walked off. I kept walking in the opposite direction, feeling better about people. Further down the coastal path someone had sprayed a red heart on the wall.

heart