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Health » Policy & Issues

Updated: October 3, 2011 10:43 IST

A disease where stigma is as old as its history

Bangalore
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‘Discrimination against TB patients comes from ignorance'

Aruna Jayaram, a resident of Hanumanthnagar in the city, whose aged father was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB), was taken aback when her neighbour refused to let her into the house after learning about the diagnosis.

“As we know the family well, I was shocked by this reaction. I wanted to leave my son with them so that I could attend to my father at the hospital,” she told The Hindu.

No longer fatal

Symptoms of tuberculosis include uncontrolled cough and expectoration for over three weeks, weight and appetite loss, and fever during evenings, with the patient sometimes even coughing up blood.

Considered life-threatening in the 19th century, an era of sanatorium line of treatment, there is still a stigma attached to it.

Ignorance in people

Shashidhar Buggi, director of SDS Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases Hospital and Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases, says the stigma is as old as the history of the disease. He blames this on the ignorance of people.

“Before 1940, the sanatorium line of treatment was followed. But that was meant to isolate people so as to prevent the spread of the disease rather than as treatment. Hence, mortality rate was high then,” he says.

“Now, medication can cure it. In most patients, the medicine works within six to eight weeks, although regular treatment has to be continued for at least eight months.”

Access to care

Pointing out that more women die because of tuberculosis than during childbirth, Dr. Buggi says: “Stigma often prevents people, especially women, from seeking health care. This constitutes a direct public health threat to the community. Even when patients seek treatment, social disapproval decreases compliance with treatment.”

Doctors involved in its treatment say there are several instances where tuberculosis has been the reason for broken marriages and women being driven out of their homes. This results in depression and anxiety, further adding to the burden of the disease.

According to Vijay Kumar S. Biradar, the former BBMP project coordinator for Revised National TB Control Programme, says discrimination against those infected could occur at the workplace, healthcare facilities, or within the community.

“This can have a devastating social and psychological impact. Social isolation, experienced rejection, shame and blame due to TB diagnosis can lead to psychosomatic stress,” Dr. Biradar says.

Campaigns

Doctors advise people with personal experience with tuberculosis to get involved in advocacy campaigns and support groups. Workplace campaigns aimed at spreading the message that tuberculosis is curable should be taken up, they add.


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