August 22, 2013
Drawing by George Butler
Ko Myint Naing’s Story
Ko Myint Naing travelled to Yangon from his home in Magway, in central Myanmar, where he worked as a farmer. He came in search of lifesaving treatment.
“My friends recommended me to go to Yangon and see a doctor because Magway is not well developed. I had never been to Yangon, so I didn’t want to go.”
When Ko Myint Naing arrived, he was diagnosed with HIV. His CD4 count was alarmingly low at 9. CD4 count helps to tell how weakened a person’s immune system is; the lower the count the greater the risk of HIV related illnesses. He was immediately started on anti-retroviral treatment (ART).
Soon after, he was diagnosed with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). TB has long been the biggest killer of people living with HIV. MDR-TB is a form of the disease that does not respond to standard TB drugs and is far harder to treat.
“The counsellors asked me if I would take two years (MDR-TB) treatment. I had several discussions with people at Insein clinic. I was thinking whether to take it or not. And then I learned that if I don’t take the treatment I may not live longer. So I decided I must.”
Ko Myint Naing has a wife and two children and two elderly parents. He is an only child. His parents sold much of their land and belongings to pay for his travel and stay in Yangon, so he can get treatment.
“At my age I need to earn money, but instead I have to take care of my health. This makes me feel down. But I told myself it is only 2 years... After completing my treatment I can work again. Everything else can be sold, only the house needs to remain for when I come back. Almost all my land for farming is gone. ”
His treatment began in January 2012.
“During the injection time I needed to come to the clinic every day. From home to the clinic I need to take two buses, and the roads are really bumpy so it was very painful and tiring. Now the injections are finished I am taking only the tablets. But the duration is long.”
Before now Ko Myint Naing did not know about TB or MDR-TB. Following his experience, he wants to share his knowledge about the disease.
“Now, I have learned practically what it is to go through this treatment, even though it is a huge challenge to take it and to go through it. By learning this I have more knowledge about MDR-TB. If there is somebody who becomes infected I can share my experience with them.”
Ko Myint Naing is now completing his treatment. Today rapid diagnosis and correct treatment is the best form of prevention because it improves people’s chance of cure and reduces infectiousness.
“Now I can bring my children to be with me and live with them, and we can eat together, so now I am happy again. When I meet newly infected MDR-TB patients I will tell them please try to take the treatment completely.”
Ko Min Naing Oo is committed to raising awareness about the disease and providing peer support for new patients. He launches his inaugural post as Myanmar’s first blogger on the global TB&ME patient platform today http://blogs.msf.org/tb/
Mya Mya’s Story
Mya Mya was cured from multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in early 2012. She is one of the lucky ones!
According to global statistics only half of people are cured using the current long and toxic treatments.
“The current treatment has many pills and also a lot of side effects,” she says. “ The biggest difficulties are psychological. Sometimes I even felt like not taking the treatment anymore.”
Side effects commonly include nausea, body ache, deafness, and psychosis, among other problems.
“I ate less. And my blood pressure dropped. I started vomiting, and felt nauseous. My hemoglobin dropped. I had two bottles of blood transfusion. And I was hospitalized for one month.”
Mya Mya was treated at an MSF clinic in Yangon, where we provide free medical care for people with HIV, and HIV/TB co-infection. Many of these patients are especially vulnerable because they have two diseases and a large treatment burden.
The sicker Mya Mya felt, the harder it became for her to take care of her family and home. However, being at home with her daughters also gave her strength.
“I have two daughters, so I must be alive for their sake. I kept that in my mind. With this way of thinking I became healthy.”
Her husband is also being treated for MDR-TB.
“My husband is now working again. He still has some dizziness after taking injections and drugs. Sometimes he still has nausea and vomiting.”
Since being cured, Mya Mya has become a passionate peer supporter for other patients going through the treatment process.
“When I meet them, I try to support them. I tell them during my time there were no cured patients in Myanmar. But now you can see cured people; you can see they really are getting healthy and can even work again.”
She is also an advocate for the need for new treatments.
“For the future, I want new patients to have shorter treatments even though I took two years of treatment myself,” she says. “If possible, I want them to reduce the treatment by one year. And the injection drugs are really painful. I want them to not get injections for six months, if possible only two months.”
Thankfully, Mya Mya is one of the lucky ones, and brings that enthusiasm to her work helping others.
“I feel really happy because I am healthy again,” she says. “I also feel happy because I can share my experience with the people who are infected and receiving treatment—that’s why I am really happy and proud of myself. Two years of treatment is a really long time and is it really difficult to stay with it, so I am really happy to support others during their time.”
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)