Today is World Tuberculosis Day and, although many of us in the West view TB as a disease from a bygone era, in the global south TB is a very real threat that claimed the lives of 1.7 million people in 2009 (WHO). Additionally, 14 million people are thought to be co-infected with HIV and TB due to the HIV virus compromising their immune system.
However, there is another way that TB and HIV overlap and that is through the social stigma that sufferers of both diseases face. As with all communicable diseases they invoke an intense fear of infection from the general population and this leads to the afflicted being shunned and marginalized from society. This discrimination ultimately leads to the break down of relationships, job loss and affects both the mental health and the economic security of the patient.
As treatments of both diseases are costly the loss of work that generally follows marginalization pushes people into a spiral of poverty. This poverty then leads to poor nutrition, poor sanitation and poor living conditions and this further exacerbates the patient’s poor health.
Self – stigma is also a problem, as patients isolate themselves in order to protect their loved ones from infection or to protect themselves from the disapproval of their family and friends. This isolation can then lead to depression as social isolation and depression are directly linked.
Personally I think that, in order to overcome this stigma people need to be educated about how both conditions actually spread. This is to stop the myths that surround both diseases for example, the belief that HIV can be caught from drinking from the same cup as an infected individual. Education and awareness will also help prevent the spread of TB and HIV. This education needs to be coupled with re-integration and self-sufficiency programmes that reach out to those battling HIV and TB and allow them to become independent financially whilst providing them with a social outlet.
To find out more about this major public health issue, watch our video on TB and HIV.