James Nachtwey’s Photos Highlight Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis

Journalist James Nachtwey photographed people with tuberculosis in South Africa, Cambodia and other countries for this slideshow being displayed around the world.

Health experts say tuberculosis (or TB) is preventable and usually treatable. Yet it continues to afflict around nine million people each year. It kills one person every 20 seconds.

Nachtwey’s pictures are being distributed by a coalition called ACTION (for Advocacy to Control TB Internationally).

Joanne Carter of ACTION in Washington says because of decades of neglect, TB has now developed into newer, deadlier strains. Some are extremely drug-resistant.

“Even though this disease kills nearly two million people every year, is the biggest killer of people with AIDS, there [are] half a million cases of drug-resistant TB estimated -- new cases -- every year,” Carter said. “This issue is receiving very little attention and the hope is that these photographs could actually bring a much higher level of attention to tuberculosis.”

Tuberculosis can be treated with powerful drugs, but many poor countries lack the means to detect the disease. Carter says the newest TB drug is 40 years old, there is no effective vaccine for adults, and diagnosing the newer strains is more difficult.

“In most of the developing world, the diagnostic test that we’re using for TB is over a hundred years old, and so while it can detect standard TB, it actually can’t detect drug resistance, it has more difficulty detecting TB in people who are HIV positive,” Carter said.

In countries with a poor medical infrastructure, experts say it is difficult to make sure patients continue taking their medications for the minimum six months.

“Many people who are diagnosed don’t get the treatment or don’t stay on the treatment. It can take two years to treat them,” Rachel Nugent, who is with the Center for Global Development in Washington said. “So it’s very difficult to have expectations that somebody in a poor country with pretty bad health facilities is going to be able to continue treatment for a two-year period, and that means that they’re going to die.”

To view more of Nachtwey’s photos and find out about the disease, visit http://www.xdrtb.org.