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South Africa’s new TB regimen cures drug-resistant cases4 minutes read

The new treatment which cures highly drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis will drastically shorten the treatment period

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South Africa's new TB regimen cures drug-resistant cases
A caretaker inspects bandages in the activity room of Ward 16, where the drug-resistant tuberculosis patients are housed and treated at the Sizwe Tropical Diseases Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. - A new treatment was approved on August 14, 2019 by the US Food and Drug Administration which cures highly drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis and drastically shorten the treatment period. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

Four years ago, South African fashion designer Innocent Molefe, 38, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. A year ago, it developed into multi-drug resistant strain requiring painful injections and heaps of pills.

Three months after the first round of treatment, he relapsed and started a second round. At the end of it, he still wasn’t cured.

Thanks to a new treatment – approved Wednesday by the US Food and Drug Administration – he is now cleared of the disease, has bounced back to work and has even resumed night-clubbing, something he has stopped four years ago.

“I was willing to beat TB and I’m living proof. I can move around… I can still go clubbing till the early hours,” said the dreadlocked designer at his home in Soweto township.

READ: South Africa buries 46 unidentified and unclaimed corpses

The announcement was especially welcomed in South Africa, one of the countries with the highest number of TB cases. Of the more than 1.6 million TB deaths recorded every year, more than 75,000 are in South Africa alone. In 2017, South Africa recorded more than 322,000 active TB cases.

South Africa's new TB regimen cures drug-resistant cases
TB patients rest in the garden of Ward 16, where the drug-resistant tuberculosis patients are housed and treated at the Sizwe Tropical Diseases Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa.(Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

The new treatment which cures highly drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis will drastically shorten the treatment period.

The three-drug regimen consists of bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid – collectively known as the BPaL regimen.

Pretomanid is the novel compound developed by the New York-based non-profit organisation TB Alliance and which received the FDA greenlight Wednesday.

The treatment regimen was trialled at three sites in South Africa involving 109 patients and achieved a 90 per cent success rate after six months of treatment and six months of post-treatment follow-ups.

‘Groundbreaking treatment’-

With the treatment involving five pills of the three drugs daily taken over just six months – it makes easier to administer.

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This compares to between 30 and 40 drugs that multiple-drug resistant TB patients take each day for up to two years.

“Usually and in many places in the world, the treatment for (multiple) … drug-resistant TB would take anything between 18 to 24 months,” said Pauline Howell, principal investigator of the clinical trial at Sizwe Tropical Disease Hospital in Johannesburg.

“This still includes daily injections for six months, which are extremely painful,” Howell said, adding that taking only five pills would make a huge difference.

The FDA approval represents a victory for those suffering from highly drug-resistant forms of the world’s deadliest infectious disease, said Mel Spigelman, president and CEO of TB Alliance. 

South Africa's new TB regimen cures drug-resistant cases
TB patients do painting activities with a caretaker in the garden of Ward 16, where the drug-resistant tuberculosis patients are housed and treated at the Sizwe Tropical Diseases Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

Last year, there were more than half a million drug-resistant TB cases in the world.

A chronic lung disease which is preventable and largely treatable if diagnosed in time, tuberculosis is the top infectious killer, causing over 1.6 million deaths each year.

More than 10 million cases are recorded every year. The disease has worsened as it has become increasingly resistant to available medicines.

TB Alliance started designing the trial in 2014.

“This is really groundbreaking result we have here,” said Folu Olugbosi, clinical director and head of the South African office of TB Alliance.

Patients are moving from a “truckload of pills” to cure the resistant strain with just three drugs and in just six months, Olugbosi said.

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At the Sizwe hospital northeast of Johannesburg, a patient named Nxumalo arrived from Katlehong township for his regular post-treatment check-up to make sure he is still in the clear.

“With the old regimen, I would vomit,” said the 23-year-old unemployed man. “But with the one for research, it’s easier to take than 24 tablets.”

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South Africa Unions Reject Government Plan to Review Pay

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The South African labour unions have rejected a government proposal to review planned increases for civil servants days before they were due to be implemented.


The Public Servants Association, which represents 230,000 government workers, says the state has asked to review the last leg of a three-year pay agreement because it couldn’t afford it.


The Public Servants Association says the timing of the proposal, a few days before the adjustments were due to be implemented, speaks of a government that regards public servants as an easy target to resolve its financial woes.


The Central Executive Committee of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country’s biggest labor federation, says if the proposal made its way into the budget speech it will be seen as a declaration of war.

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Business News

South Africa Raises $1.1 Billion Bailout for Ailing Airways

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South Africa has almost doubled its funding for the national airline to 16.4 billion rand ($1.1 billion), cash which will go towards supporting a restructuring plan for the almost insolvent carrier.


The bailout will be used to service and pay debt previously guaranteed by the state over the “medium term,” according to the country’s Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni.


This amount compares with 9.2 billion rand earmarked for South African Airways in October.


SAA has been a drain on the National Treasury for several years racking up losses of more than R32 billion over the past decade.
Late last year, the government placed the airline on a local form of bankruptcy protection, and administrators have set about reducing costs by closing routes and considering asset sale.
However, the Finance Minister has often stated his reluctance to support SAA while faced with bigger problems such as the $30 billion of debt owed by state-owned power utility Eskom Holdings.


In addition to Treasury funds, SAA was last month, given access to R3.5 billion from the state-owned Development Bank of Southern Africa.

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South Africa to Establish $2 Billion Sovereign Wealth Fund

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South Africa has announced that it will use money from the sale of broadband spectrum and mining royalties to establish a 30 billion-rand ($2 billion) sovereign wealth fund, according to the country’s Finance Minister,Tito Mboweni.


Its establishment was first mooted at least 10 years ago.
The proposed fund comes at a time when Africa’s most industrialised economy is struggling to contain rising debt amid sluggish economic growth and a budget deficit projected to widen to a near three-decade high of 6.8% in the coming fiscal year.


Mboweni says the legislative framework for the fund will be submitted to the parliament.


Funding will come from the government’s plans to sell broadband spectrum this year, along with royalties from petroleum, gas and mineral rights, as well as the sale of non-core assets, future surpluses and savings.


The government is also pressing ahead with plans to form a state bank that will operate as a retail financial institution premised on commercial principles, he said.


However, the Reserve Bank is yet to grant the proposed lender an operating license.

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