UK-based Malawian doctor Bern Nyang’wa hailed for leading a “kinder” TB treatment breakthrough

Dr. Nyang’wa while on duty in Walikale, North Kivu, DRC

* It has convinced the World Health Organization to update its TB treatment guidance

* Patients were being subjected to lengthy, ineffective and grueling treatment that disrupted their lives

* About half a million people fall sick each year with drug-resistant tuberculosis—MSF

* Many of them from low income countries—thus WHO setting conditions to global pharmaceutical giants to lower its prices

By Duncan Mlanjira

UK-based Malawian doctor, Bern Thomas Nyang’wa — who is director of medical services for Medicins Sans Frontier (MSF) — has been highly acclaimed for leading a successful clinical trial on Tuberculosis (TB) that has convinced the World Health Organization (WHO) to update its TB treatment guidance.


Nyang’wa is reported to have began his research nine years ago after observing that patients were being subjected to “lengthy, ineffective and grueling treatment that disrupted their lives making treatment plans difficult to stick to”.

“Little progress was being made to find kinder treatments; diseases that are most prevalent in low-and-middle-income countries don’t attract investment,” said the report further.

The clinical trials stage of the research began in 2017 and enrolled 552 patients in South Africa, Belarus and Uzbekistan, giving them a treatment consisting of four drugs — whose results showed 89% of patients on this treatment were cured, compared to 52% among those getting the usual much more complicated tuberculosis treatment, which often comes with nasty side-effects.

The reports quoted MSF as saying about half a million people fall sick each year with drug-resistant tuberculosis — many of them from low income countries — thus WHO has set conditions to global pharmaceutical giants who need it to lower its prices.


Two of the drugs in the new ground-breaking treatment are sold by big pharmaceutical companies at prices that make it prohibitively expensive — about $800 for the six-month dosage required

The report quotes Christophe Perrin — the tuberculosis advocacy pharmacist with MSF’s Access Campaign — as saying the new treatment “will only see meaningful changes if treatment is affordable”.

However, Johnson & Johnson, one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, with US$93.77 billion in sales in 2021 has previously said its medication for drug-resistant tuberculosis is priced fairly — and calls to reduce the price are “not realistic”.

Nyang’wa, a product of Kamuzu Academy (1991-1997) studied medicine in Malawi at College of Medicine — now Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KuHes) — for his first degree before doing his postgraduate training in International Public Health at University of Leeds.

He is currently completing a PhD in TB drugs pharmacology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

He said he joined MSF in Malawi in 2004 having worked with Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital and in 2007 he went to work in Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic with MSF France.

“I joined MSF-UK in 2009 when I moved to the UK as I followed my wife, Maggie, who was undergoing a paediatric specialisation training.


His wife, Dr. Kumwenda-Nyang’wa is a consultant paediatrician with specialist interest in infectious diseases, immunology and allergy and does her clinical/research portfolio at University Hospital Lewisham.

She is also an honorary visiting lecturer for KUHeS as well as Malawi HIV Implementation Research Scientist Training (MHIRST) research fellow.