“The doors to my future are open again”

 (Photographer: Brendan Bannon)

Ahmad Yussuf prepares to take his last pills after two years of daily TB treatment

Tuberculosis, a once-endemic disease now under control in the West, infects one person a second mostly in the developing world. In Nairobi, Mike Pflanz talks to three men now finishing the arduous two-year treatment program.

MATHARE, April 27, 2011 (Daily Dispatches)

AHMAD YUSSUF, 22: “I was born in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, and from a very young age I think I had this disease. By the time I was eight, I was taken to a doctor about pains in my chest, he found I was carrying the illness. I was given pills, they helped, but soon it was the same again.

“You know, in Somalia, I was born two years before the start of the civil war. Since then, there has been no government to organize hospitals, or to pay for tablets for poor families like mine. For many years, I would go to a doctor, he would give me pills, I had to take them for six months, and I would feel better. Then, after that, I would fall sick again, vomiting blood, feeling so weak, losing my appetite and weight, and I had to take the pills again.

“Eventually one doctor told me they cannot treat me in Somalia, the disease was too strong. He said I had to go to Nairobi, but how do I travel there, I had no money? Some friends in Canada sent me money, and I came to Kenya, but immediately I was arrested for being an illegal immigrant. The police feared me because I was so weak and coughing and I told them I was sick.

“Again, relatives sent money, I paid the court fine, and came here to the Doctors Without Borders clinic in Nairobi. I was given such a warm welcome. They put me on treatment for Multi-Drug Resistant TB, it’s injections every day for six months, and pills every day for two years. You cannot leave the city, you have to come here to take medicine every day. It’s very hard, but I could not give up because what is two years when I had been suffering since I was a child?

“Today, I have taken the last pills. My emotions are so high now, in my mind are all the obstacles and problems I suffered all the time I was with my disease. Now I feel the doors to my future are open, I can start school again, I can see my parents, my siblings, after two years, I can work.

“There is a Somali proverb, with health you have hope, and with hope you have everything. Today, I have my health back for the first time in more than 10 years.”

Julius Irungu, 30, will finish his treatment for MDR-TB in May 2011. When he arrived for treatment 2 years ago he could barely walk 100 yards. " Look how beautiful i am now!" he said. (Photographer: Brendan Bannon)

Julius Irungu, finishing two years of MDR-TB treatment in May

JULIUS IRUNGU, 30: “Now I’m feeling very strong, I finish this medicine at the end of May. When I came here two years ago, I was too weak, even standing up from the chair was difficult, my legs had no muscles. Today, ask me, I will walk from here to Athi River, that’s more than 20 miles, no problem.

“I don’t know where I found this disease. I was working as a grocer in a town in a rural area north of Nairobi, when I got sick. Then I came here and since then I have not been able to work. That is the hardest thing, it is not the injections, although they are arduous. It is not the pills, you must come here every day to take them, and they make you feel so sick.

“No, the hardest thing is not earning your own money, but to have to live on the gifts of others. I am a man, I am supposed to provide for my wife, yet here I am taking things from others. That I will never forget.

“When I finish this treatment, that is the big change to come. I know my customers at the grocers have all gone, but I am strong now, I will find any work, and begin to be independent again.”

Ahmed Yussuf, 22 years old, went through half dozen treatments for TB in Mogadishu, Somalia. He fled Somalia in 2008. After 2 years of  treatment for multi-drug resistant TB he took his last pills on (Photographer: Brendan Bannon)

TB victims have to take up to 15 pills a day for two years, and daily injections for the first six months

GODFREY ODHIAMBO, 33: “You know, I used to drink a lot. I know how it is to be drunk. I think the medicines they give us here, they make the disease in our bodies drunk, so they cannot gain strength. They become weak and they die.

“This disease, it is called Multi-Drug Resistant TB because it attacks people who had normal TB then they defaulted in taking the medicine because they felt OK, then the bacteria come back stronger, and the medicine is no longer effective. To make sure I did not default, because otherwise I would be dead, I moved to a new place, found new friends who did not drink or mess about, and just lived this new quiet life working hard to beat this infection.

“On Monday, I finish the tablets. It has been a kind of prison, to have to be here every day for two years. I am so excited to be free. I will travel to my parents’ home in Western Kenya for the first time in so long, there will be a big party, I know already they have a goat they will slaughter and we will feast on meat in celebration.

“Then, I will look for work. I am a trained chef. Everywhere they need chefs. I am excited, I am hopeful for this new future I have.”


Related: Full-size gallery of Brendan’s images from the Doctors Without Borders TB clinic in Mathare and Doctors Without Borders/MSF’s website

3 Responses to ““The doors to my future are open again””

  1. James Cooke says:

    This is really interesting! I had no idea Tuberculosis was still a major problem in some areas. My great-grandfather worked the farm which provided fresh produce to the JN Adams hospital in Perrysburg, NY. My grandparents and uncle still live across from the grounds today. Back then there wasn’t too much medication for the patients and fresh air was stressed-I remember seeing a photo of a whole bunch of kids on beds rolled out onto a covered porch in the WINTER!! Apparently there was success with this method….the overmedication issue is also quite interesting. Oftentimes we hear about overmedication of America but rarely do we think that perhaps foreign countries, especially those such as Africa are potentially being OVERmedicated (via perscription drugs)!!

    For anyone interested here’s a website regarding the JN Adams hospital…..


  2. Roberta says:

    Great story.

    Thousands of people are condemed to death cause where they live there’s no chance of getting medical treatment.

    When they try to flee to another country to save their lives, they find the doors shut.

    Wish Governments would think more about this when designing their asylum or immigration policies…

  3. Bea says:

    Great insight into TB treatment and thank you for highlighting how resistant TB can be defeated. I has no idea of MSF’s work on this front right in the middle of Nairobi (multi.drug risistant TB). They always do amazing work and give hope and life back to people. Great shots and writing too.