Referral Networks and Staff Trainings Improve Multidrug Resistant TB Control in Ethiopia

{Photo: Warren Zelman}Photo: Warren Zelman

Azmara Ashenafi, a 35-year-old woman from the Amhara region of Ethiopia, was recently diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) and placed on treatment. Although she took this medicine for months, her symptoms persisted and eventually became so severe that she sought further treatment at the Muja Health Center.

The Muja Health Center is supported by the PEPFAR-funded, USAID project, Help Ethiopia Address Low TB Performance (HEAL TB), led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH). Since 2012, HEAL TB has been training the health center’s staff to screen patients like Azmara for multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), a strain of TB that infects 6,000 Ethiopians each year and cannot be treated with the two most common anti-TB drugs.

In addition to patient screening, HEAL TB has also helped the Muja Health Center improve its diagnostic referral network and staff capacity to effectively use this network. These interventions enabled Azmara to receive her diagnosis and begin treatment at Borumeda Hospital in less than four months. In the past, the process may have taken up to six months or been delayed for years, as staff did not know how or where to send samples for MDR-TB testing or patients for MDR-TB treatment.

To prevent the spread of MDR-TB in Ethiopia, HEAL TB trains health workers to screen those who have been in close contact with the MDR-TB patients. Thanks to this training, the staff at Borumeda Hospital tested all of Azmera’s family members and found that her three-year-old son, Feseha, was also infected with MDR-TB. The team immediately began treating the child and both Azmera and Feseha are now stable and in good health.

“I thank the Borumeda Hospital staff and other partners for diagnosing our MDR-TB and providing treatment and other support to save my life and my child’s life,” said Azmera.

Since the project began in 2011, HEAL TB has trained 84 health workers in the Amhara region to diagnose and treat MDR-TB patients.

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