Dr. Raj Taneja knows tuberculosis treatment from two sides. About 30 years ago he was a multidrug-resistant tuberculosis patient, treated with drugs, he says,”we shudder to think of today.”
Today Taneja is senior director for the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development. He cites progress made since his days as a patient to support his contention that conquering the ancient disease is possible: “We did it 30 years ago, and we’ll do it again now.”
His delivery is upbeat as well. He laughs easily, even as he affirms how he knows tuberculosis is worse than malaria: “I’ve had malaria five times,” he says cheerfully, “I would take malaria any day over this disease.”
But when he notes that the test by which his tuberculosis was diagnosed was essentially the same as the one that first detected the bacteria 130 years ago, and is still the most widely used means of diagnosing the disease, his voice drops, as he says: “This is unforgivable.”
Taneja was one of five speakers Wednesday at a Capitol Hill briefing examining progress as well as standstills in efforts to confront tuberculosis. Together, they told a story of how illness as well as responses around the world are interconnected, when effective treatments for the airborne disease are compromised by stagnant funding.
Joining Taneja were film maker Jezza Newman, whose documentary TB Silent Killer aired Tuesday on Frontline. A clip from the film showed how the effects of toxic treatments for multidrug resistant tuberculosis continue to rival the devastation of the disease itself in Swaziland. In turn, California teenager Jake Kaufman and his mother Caryn Kaufman told of their first hand experience experience after Jake, at 10, contracted tuberculosis from his elementary school teacher, and learned their was no treatment for the disease appropriate for children. The treatment he received led to hallucinations, and was discontinued, leaving him and his mother, five years later, wondering if he is cured of the tuberculosis.
No age appropriate drugs for children exist yet, Taneja confirmed. He told how pill crushing and pill splitting lead to incomplete dosing for pediatric patients, while harrowing side effects and complicated regimens continue to challenge effective treatment. “Unforgivable,” he added.
Also presenting at the briefing were USAID Infectious Diseases Division Chief Cheri Vincent, and National Tuberculosis Controllers Association President Dr. Jennifer Flood.
The briefing was co-sponsored by RESULTS, Aeras, TB Alliance, American Thoracic Society, PSI, Management Sciences for Health, National TB Controllers Association, and the IDSA Center for Global Health Policy, which produces this blog.