Women with TB have the right to live too

Clarity Sibanda, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
Twenty years have passed since the signing of the Beijing Declaration on women but issues such as women and poverty, human rights and health remain unresolved despite them being enunciated in the twelve critical areas of the declaration. TB is a disease killing more than half a million women a year and making more than 3 million women sick annually. It is a blow to note that women suffering from the disease often face unique challenges, including intense stigma and discrimination. They have a more challenging time accessing TB services than men do, and this has a proven negative impact on their already deteriorating health.

The stories of women with TB rarely make headlines, but sometimes they do—the jaw dropping incident that happened this year (2015) in January, paints a gloomy picture of the lives of TB patients. 40-year-old Kausalya Deshmukh of Mumbai, India, jumped to her death. According to news reports, she had been receiving ineffective treatment for multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) for two years. She was depressed, and the adverse effects of the medicines left her permanently deaf. Such cases leave one wondering if indeed the world will ever be a better place to live in.

Stigmatization of TB patients        

Paula I Fujiwara, the Scientific Director and Riitta Dlodlo, Director, Department of Tuberculosis and HIV of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (the Union), in a statement issued during the commemoration of International Women’s Day, had this to say “We need to reduce stigma by educating people about what TB really is. Anyone can get TB, rich or poor, man or woman. People with TB, including women with TB, deserve compassion and the best medical care available. At the same time we are educating people, we can be stigmatizing those who stigmatize. We need to make it socially unacceptable to stigmatize people who are sick with TB or with any other disease.”


According to Zimbabwe ‘s National AIDS Council (NAC), the dual epidemic of TB and HIV also continues to be a major factor in morbidity and mortality among people living with HIV (PLHIV), especially in sub-Saharan Africa, undermining efforts to prevent and control HIV.  In Zimbabwe it is estimated that approximately 80% of TB cases are co-infected with HIV.

Many countries have not been spared from this health scourge and according to the Zimbabwe‘s National Guidelines for TB/HIV Co-management document, the country ranks 17th among the world’s high TB burden countries, and 4th according to incidence per capita (782/100,000). Case detection in 2006 was estimated at 37% (for all cases), and treatment success at 60% (for new cases). Less than one third of pulmonary TB cases had positive sputum smear microscopy in 2007 and 27% of all patients received TB treatment without smear examination having been performed (NTP).

TB signs and symptoms

TB is a disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The TB bacterium is transmitted through the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected. The TB bacterium usually attacks the lungs, but is not limited to it and may affect other body parts as well, like bone, spine, stomach, fallopian tubes, etc. If not treated properly, the disease can be fatal.

It is difficult to notice the signs of TB at its early stage as its characteristic symptoms - loss of weight, loss of energy, poor appetite, fever, a productive cough, and night sweats-- might easily be blamed on another disease. The good news about the disease is that it can be treated, but it takes at least six months to kill all the drug sensitive TB germs through correct and uninterrupted usage of the prescribed medications. In case of MDR-TB, treatment duration is at least 24 months.

There is need for concerted efforts to curb the spread of the disease. Governments must ensure that health services are provided for free. Paula Fujiwara says, “On this International Women’s Day, we call for a permanent end to the stigma and abuse that women with TB routinely endure on top of the pain and suffering they experience from the disease itself. She also made a call for access to quality TB treatment for all women and to recognize TB as an important women’s health issue that demands urgent attention.

WHO strategy to end the global TB epidemic

The World TB day is celebrated on the 24th of March, just 16 days after the International Women‘s Day. Last May, at the World Health Assembly, governments agreed on a new 20-year (2016-2035) strategy to end the global TB epidemic. WHO’s End TB Strategy envisions a world free of TB with zero deaths, disease and suffering. It sets targets and outlines actions for governments and partners to provide patient-centered care, pursue policies and systems that enable prevention and care, and drive research and innovations needed to end the epidemic and eliminate TB.

On World TB Day 2015, WHO calls on governments, affected communities, civil society organizations, health-care providers, and international partners to join the drive to roll out this strategy and to reach, treat and cure all those who are ill today. For this year’s World TB day, the overall theme will continue from 2014—Reach the 3 million. However the main sub theme for this year runs as ‘Reach, Treat, Cure Everyone’-- and this includes women.

Clarity Sibanda, Citizen News Service - CNS
14 March 2015