Abuja, 22 May 2018 – In March 2017, Sunny who works as a fashion designer in Abuja, Nigeria’s Capital, started coughing, experiencing chest pains, toe pain, and frequent headaches. The discomfort that came with these symptoms became unbearable and was beginning to affect his work so he decided to go to the hospital for a checkup. To his surprise he tested positive for Tuberculosis (TB) when the results were out.
This came as a shock because according to him “I stay alone so I must have contracted it from people outside because I deal with many clients every day,” he says. “Before I got infected I didn’t know anything about TB and its mode of transmission but due to the nature of my work, I come in contact with different people every day. When I learnt I had TB, I immediately started treatment. While I was still on the drug I got instructions from my doctors on how I should go about my social life. I had to minimize the way I deal with people, the things I do with them and how close I get to them.”
Scared of being stigmatized and losing his customers as a result of having TB, Sunny had to keep it a secret. “Frankly speaking I was surprised to have TB so I had to work on myself so I would not be exposed to too many people, and even when I do, I cover my face with mask based on doctors’ advice. I don’t let people know much of what is happening to me. I just take precautions and work on myself”.
When asked why he couldn’t tell his family and friends, he said, “You want people to disassociate themselves and not be friendly with me?” Adding that, at the early stage of the disease, I couldn’t talk to any member of my family because of fear of infecting them. I only told one or two people who have an understanding of the disease”.
Sunny is one of the many Nigerians who believe having TB adversely affects their social relationships in their daily lives. According to Public Health Reports on Tuberculosis and Stigmatization about 27% to 80% of at risk individuals reported that TB is stigmatized in their communities globally.
“From my experience I encourage other people not to be shy. They should come out because at the end of the day they are bettering themselves. I’m free unlike before when I had pains in some parts of my body. If they come out and take the treatment it is for their good and our country so that the disease will not spread to uninfected people. I’ll advise those having symptoms to visit the hospital, get tested and if they have the disease they should go for treatment as it is totally free.” He reiterates.
Commenting on TB related stigma, the coordinator of NTBLCP Dr Lawanson Adebola said “even though there has been some form of social mobilization already happening in the community, a lot of people still do not know what TB is all about. TB is not a disease of the poor only as even the rich get infected that is why it is important that we go out there to hear the perception of people when it comes to TB to be able to design the best messages so that action can be taken’’.
WHO maintains that ending stigma is one sure way of ensuring people infected with TB are bold enough to take treatment without fear of being stigmatized by family members and colleagues. This will in turn save millions of lives and achieve the global goal of ending TB as an epidemic by 2030.
“WHO provides guidelines for the treatment of TB, sanctions and approves the algorithm for the diagnosis, treatment of TB and provide the needed technical assistance in the areas of educating the people, supportive supervisions, training, and developing strategic plans” Dr Awe Ayodele, WHO TB team lead explains.
TB is transmitted from an infected person to a susceptible person through airborne particles called droplet nuclei. It is not transmitted through sharing utensils/food, sexual contact, touching/shaking a person with TB, mosquito bites, sharing toothbrushes, kissing or from mother to child.