Between 18th and 19th November, TB Europe Coalition members, RESULTS UK and Global Health Advocates, had the exciting opportunity to welcome Marina to Brussels to brief decision-makers on the severity of the TB epidemic (TB) in the European Union (EU). Marina fought two years to defeat multidrug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and is now a great advocate on the issue.  By bringing the perspective of MDR-TB patients, Marina highlighted the urgent need for action at regional level to fight TB and ensure the rights of TB patients.

Marina’s story illustrates perfectly why the EU institutions and member states must work together as opposed to national governments acting alone. Marina, a Romanian citizen who now lives in the UK after studying for a degree in law at the University of Manchester, was studying abroad in France, when she first developed a cough that would not go away. This cough led her down a long road of doctors and tests as various French doctors struggled to identify a disease many believe no longer exists in Europe.  While Marina began to suspect she had TB, an illness that is quite common in Romania, doctors in France were failing to diagnose her. She therefore travelled to Romania, where she was diagnosed with TB right away and shortly afterwards received the news that her strain of TB was multidrug-resistant.

Marina’s diagnosis forced her to take off a semester of university in order to undergo treatment in Romania. Part of her treatment required her to receive painful injections every day. Marina was supposed to have a total of 180 shots, but she had to stop the injectables after the first 60 because she developed tinnitus (ringing in the ears) as a side effect and risked to become deaf.

The drugs Marina had to take also came with serious side effects. Every day she had to swallow a large handful of pills. Initially, the drugs made her sensitive to light and her joints were so painful that she couldn’t move them. She battled with constant fatigue, which sapped her energy and made it difficult to study. The drugs made her feel nauseated and dizzy – side effects that Marina experienced every single day for two years. Yet Marina managed to overcome her two years of treatment and successfully completed both her studies and her treatment in April 2014.

Marina’s story is one of triumph. Countless people fail to understand how incredibly difficult the two year course of MDR-TB treatment is. Within the European Union, only one third of patients with MDR-TB successfully complete their treatment because of length and the horrible side effects.

As one of the few that successfully completed their treatment, Marina was keen to bring her story to the attention of decision makers in Brussels. Throughout the week, Marina was encouraged to hear from Members of the European Parliament (MEP) across the political spectrum that they are keen to raise the issue of TB within the European Parliament and look for solutions to turn the tide against this devastating disease.

Marina was able to meet with a range of Parliamentarians, including UK, Romanian, Spanish, and Croatian MEPs, who committed to use their voice and positions in the ENVI (Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) and DEVE (Development) Committees of the European Parliament to urge their colleagues and decision-makers in the EU institutions to, once and for all, take action on MDR-TB for what it is – a European cross-border health threat that requires a coordinated regional response.