We need people – people like those in TB Alert, who are focused and ambitious and care for people at grass roots in the UK, India and Africa. Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership
Why is TB stigmatised?
In some cultures, TB is associated with witchcraft. TB can be considered a ‘curse’ on a family, as the illness often affects multiple generations – we know that this is simply because TB is an airborne illness, which is more likely to be spread among people living in close proximity. People also associate TB with factors that can themselves create stigma: poverty; drug and alcohol misuse; homelessness; a history of prison; and refugee status.
People who are discriminated against may be isolated socially, particularly in small communities – even entire families may be shunned. Women are often blamed as the source of TB, and those affected by the illness may be divorced or considered unworthy of marriage.
The impact of stigma
Fear of discrimination can delay people with TB symptoms from seeking help; this makes it much more likely that they will become gravely ill. This also leads to the myth that it is TB treatment itself that causes deaths. Treatment is much less effective if left until the illness is in its advanced stages. Delays in treatment also mean that people with infectious TB continue to pass it on to others. Stigma around TB can also make them reluctant to stick with their course of treatment – over the many months this takes – for fear of being ‘found out.’ Taking treatment irregularly can cause drug resistance.
TB is not spread through spitting or sharing crockery or cutlery. You need to be exposed to TB droplets in the air for eight hours or more to be at risk of contracting the illness – so the idea that TB is easily spread on public transport is also a myth.
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