In South Africa, one out of three people with tuberculosis (TB) are insulted, gossiped about, or teased. People with TB also regularly feel dirty or ashamed about having the disease, according to the South African National Aids Council’s TB stigma index.
For some people, TB-related stigma has become far worse than HIV-related stigma. Why? With the rise of drug resistant TB, for which many ordinary TB medicines don’t work, TB is no longer always a curable disease. Tuberculosis is an airborne disease, so drug-resistant TB is easier to contract than HIV.
According to the World Health Organisation, four out of ten people die from drug-resistant TB because the drugs simply don’t work for them, or they don’t complete their treatment because the side effects of the drugs are too much to handle. One such drug leaves half of its users permanently deaf.
TB-related stigma prevents people with the disease from getting diagnosed early on. They’re scared of visiting a clinic, because of the risk of being identified as someone with TB. This means they access treatment late, which lowers their chances of being cured. This is particularly the case with regard to drug-resistant TB.
As part of World TB Day on Thursday March 24, the Mail & Guardian’s health journalism centre, Bhekisisa, will be joining the #UnmaskStigma campaign.
The “UnmaskStigma” campaign involves posting a selfie of yourself with a surgical mask on social media with the #UnmaskStigma hashtag.
While they’re still infectious, people with TB are required to wear surgical masks in public to prevent them from infecting others.
We’d like to invite you to join us in this campaign. It’s an attempt to break down the stigma people with TB experience so they can access treatment earlier. Copy @bhekisisa_MG in on your tweet and we’ll retweet it along with a short fact on TB. In our April 1 edition, we will be publishing pictures of some of the selfies. We won’t publish your picture without your permission.
#Unmask TB stigma with a selfie
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Bhekisisa means "to scrutinise" in Zulu
In South Africa, Zulu patients who would like to be thoroughly assessed by a doctor, would ask the physician to "bhekisisa" them.