New Delhi: Rhea Lobo was only 19 years old when she complained of excruciating pain in her left leg. She rushed to the doctor who told her it can either be cancer, TB or a bacterial infection.
“A biopsy report from a private clinic came negative and I was given regular antibiotics,” said Ms Lobo, who is now 28. After a month and a half, she was correctly diagnosed with TB and it took another six months and three surgeries until she was given the right dosage.
While it took about seven months to diagnose her right, the battle was still not won. She was subjected to stigma. Her family members advised her against telling anyone about her TB.
“You will be labelled as a TB patient and no one will marry you. You will not bear children were some of the things people told me,” recalled Ms Lobo who is an international documentary film maker and a mother of two.
Blessina Kumar, a TB advocate, says that women face stigma the most.
“For women, stigma is worse. Their engagements break, they are fired from their jobs and often the family support system dwindles. It is not just Tuberculosis that is killing 1,400 people a day but the stigma, discrimination and the way we treat our people,” said Ms Kumar.
Like Rhea, Deepti Chavan was also diagnosed with TB when she was 16. While she has now recovered, the stigma still persists.
She said, “Earlier people would stare when I attended social functions. Lack of awareness does not allow the society to accept survivors easily despite recovery.”
Despite development in TB screening, diagnostics and treatment methods and nearly a third of the world’s population exposed to the disease, the stigma still runs deep.