Women with tuberculosis (TB) could lose their home

According to the study done by Tuberculosis Research Centre in India alarming numbers of women with tuberculosis (TB) become homeless once diagnosed with TB. At a meeting on importance of addressing TB in context of women’s health organized by Global Health Advocates (GHA) to mark the International Women's Day (8th March), this fact sent shivers down the spine: 100,000 women are abandoned by their husbands due to TB every year in India.

Nothing much has changed in the past years as in 2008, India's then Health and Family Welfare minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss had said to CNS that: "women who develop tuberculosis, 1 in 1000 lose their home. TB is the major co-infection of HIV." It is clear that the TB-related stigma attains an even worse magnitude and impact for women with TB.

However what Dr Ramadoss had said then, WHO had alerted in 1998 stating that "TB is the lead killer of young women. Wives, mothers and wage earners are being cut down in their prime and the world isn't noticing," had said Dr Paul Dolin of WHO's Global Tuberculosis Programme in a 1998 press release of WHO. "Yet the ripple effect on families, communities and economies will be felt long after a woman has died."

Women, are biologically, socially and physiologically more prone for HIV transmission than men. TB being the most common opportunistic infection for people living with HIV, it is vital for TB programmes to be gender-sensitive and accessible for women, especially those women who are most under-served and economically disadvantaged.

The WHO recommended treatment for TB, Directly Observed Treatment Short-course (DOTS), should function in a manner so as to reduce the gender inequities. TB education programmes should reach women, especially those in hard-to-reach settings. The TB treatment centres should be more accessible and safer and convenient places to women to go regularly for their medicines.

"Health for many women is the last on the priority in a family. So it is not surprising that women get late in getting diagnosed for TB and eventually for treatment. Nutritionally the food they receive in many settings in India is often the least nutritious and inadequate in a family" said Mamta Jacob of Global Health Advocates who was addressing this meet in New Delhi on 8th March 2011. Women with TB need not only to adhere to TB treatment but also to the nutrition they receive.

It is high time for those working on reducing gender inequities and disease control interventions be it HIV or TB, to work more closely together.