Tuberculosis, a disease once thought to be under control, is spreading and mutating. It’s developing resistance to almost every drug available. In South Africa, fears of a TB epidemic have led some health authorities to lock up patients. In this powerful documentary produced for the BBC we ask how should countries balance their need to protect the public from a killer disease with the rights of the individual patients? Zelda Hansen has been detained behind a barbed wire fence for nearly two years, but has never committed a crime. Zelda and others held at the Jose Pearson Hospital in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa have XDR-TB. Many years ago, Zelda was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She was treated at home with regular medicines and quickly recovered.
In December of 2006, she became aware once again of TB-like symptoms, which were not so easy to shake. The 37-year-old mother of three was admitted to hospital. The treatments they gave her there continued to have little effect. The doctors tried many drugs in different combinations, but to no avail. Zelda was diagnosed with Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis or MDR-TB and transferred to Jose Pearson, an isolated specialist hospital some 650km from Cape Town. The hospital currently houses 300 patients, all of whom are detained there, some against their will. Some months passed and Zelda still failed to respond to treatment. As the doctors had suspected for some time, Zelda had XDR-TB, an extremely drug resistant strain which is almost untreatable. It is almost always fatal. As the months wore on, Zelda remained isolated from her husband Ricardo and her children. More months passed. Zelda didn’t improve. Her situation became unbearable.
At the end of December 2007, Zelda was among the 31 XDR-TB patients who, along with 57 MDR-TB sufferers, could stand it no more. The patients cut through the fences and fled to visit their families, despite being highly contagious with a deadly disease. The patients were rounded up and returned to the high security hospital, where those left alive, including Zelda, reside to this day. Zelda joined the hospital patients committee to help voice patient’s concerns. She hope to one day be released and reunited with her children who are now being looked after by her husband, who also works full time as a welder and his parents. However, in the face of XDR-TB, Zelda’s prognosis is not a positive one.