Women are leading the fight against TB - Hindustan Times
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Women are leading the fight against TB

Mar 23, 2024 09:13 PM IST

Awareness and early treatment are even more vital given that women and girls make up nearly one million of the estimated 2.8 million TB cases in India each year

Today, on World TB Day, it is worth reiterating that the government’s goal, particularly that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is to make India TB-mukt Bharat. These efforts have seen women leaders at the grassroots becoming actively involved in the TB elimination programme, with a special emphasis on tuberculosis among women. A study held a few years ago by King George Medical University (KGMU) of 960 newly diagnosed cases of tuberculosis among women showed that at least 25% reported being isolated and discriminated against in their homes, 18% were rejected by their husbands and in-laws and 40% taken off the marriage market. Infected women were rarely cared for by their families, but wives had to take care of infected men.

Awareness and early treatment are even more vital given that women and girls make up nearly one million of the estimated 2.8 million TB cases in India each year (HT PHOTO) PREMIUM
Awareness and early treatment are even more vital given that women and girls make up nearly one million of the estimated 2.8 million TB cases in India each year (HT PHOTO)

Fearing discrimination by families and their communities, many hide their condition, missing out on vital treatment and nutrition. Experts report feelings of anxiety, depression and trauma among women who have contracted the disease. “The diagnosis among women gets delayed often as they hesitate to seek treatment. Family members ignore their complaints. After diagnosis they face discrimination, lack of care, lack of nutritious food, separation from their families, and even divorce,” says Surya Kant, pulmonologist and chairman of the north zone task force for TB elimination.

Awareness and early treatment are even more vital given that women and girls make up nearly one million of the estimated 2.8 million TB cases in India each year. It is the fifth leading cause of death among women in the country, accounting for nearly 5% of fatalities in women aged 30-69. India contributes 20.6% of the global burden of all active TB cases among pregnant women. Up to 40,000 pregnant women are likely to suffer from active TB in India annually. There is a significant risk of transmission to the infant in the postpartum period because of inhalation of droplets coughed out by the mother.

But the heartening development is that women themselves have moved to the forefront of this battle. A recent programme held in Lucknow, jointly organised by the Uttar Pradesh health department, KGMU and CFAR, an NGO, to mark International Women’s Day and involving a spectrum of women professionals called TB ki Baat Mahilaon ke Saath, revealed several positives. The main aim of the meeting was to communicate the message that the involvement of women leaders can make all the difference in TB elimination.

TB champion Sunita Tiwari, herself once afflicted by tuberculosis, says that at first, patients were reluctant to confide in her but when they came to know that she was a survivor, their response changed. She has counselled 990 TB patients so far. She received the right information which enabled her to seek treatment in time and Tiwari is now free of the disease. One of the issues that she raises is that TB can be treated during pregnancy and that women can conceive immediately after being cured.

The role of counselling has done a lot to dispel negative notions about TB. Meena Devi, an ASHA worker from Matiyari, Lucknow, says that till now she has given medicines and counselling to 32 women with TB. Meena gives the example of 27-year-old Kamini, a resident of Balu Adda, who contracted pulmonary TB and wanted to hide it. “I told her, if everyone knows that you have TB and you become healthy after taking regular medicines, then people will know that treatment of TB is possible.” Sanyogita Singh Chauhan, head of Attari gram panchayat says, “The woman is like an alarm clock, she will alert everyone else.” As Brijesh Rathore, director general of health in UP says, “Women are so committed to any work they do, I am confident they will help us achieve the goal of TB elimination well before 2025.”

The views expressed are personal

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