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Health Activist Warns that Women Caregivers at Increased Risk of Tuberculosis

Reports show that women are at a higher risk than men of contracting and dying of tuberculosis. According to the International Union against TB and Lung disease, TB kills more women than all other causes of maternal mortality combined. Over 900 million women are infected with TB worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) 2009 Global TB Control Report released last week at the 3rd Stop TB Partners' Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil shows that in 2007, there were 1.37 million estimated new TB cases among HIV-infected people and 456,000 deaths worldwide.

Dr. Pauline Muchina of Kenya is an activist on women’s health issues. She worries that such figures do not show the full effect of the disease on African women. Muchina says thousands of women who are the primary caretakers of AIDS patients are at the risk of contracting tuberculosis. “In the HIV epidemic era,” she says, “women and girls are bearing the blunt of care giving for families living with people with HIV/AIDS.”

Most of the women in sub-Saharan countries have had no training on how to handle people with TB. They are at risk of contracting the disease themselves and passing it on to their family members.

The new report from the UN says women are likely to wait longer than men before they seek medical attention because of many factors, including the social stigma attached to TB.

The report says, “While men usually worry about loss of wages and capacity for work, women worry about social rejection – from husbands, in-laws and the community in general.” Muchina adds that in addition to the stigma, women are victims of violence: “We have seen cases of women who have been beaten by their husbands because they have declared their status to them.

"Women are often the primary caretakers of their families and they can’t afford to divert the small family resources for their own medical care. “Because of their care giving nature, they want to take care of their families first...” Muchina says.

She encourages women to seek medical treatment as early as possible because the livelihood of the family depends on it. She says “Health is paramount if they are to continue providing care to their families.”