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15 July 2017

Reducing TB stigma: Activist suggests ways to tackle ‘barrier to treatment’

Tuberculosis activists (TB) have come up with cost effective ways of reducing stigma on TB-HIV at the just ended 20th Conference of the Union Africa Region.

In a panel discussion, the discussants suggested that for Africa to achieve its target of ending TB by 2035, there was the need to adopt different communication strategies aimed at changing the mindset of people to think positive about the disease.

The group also suggested that more investment should go into the training of TB survivors to act as advocates for the disease at the community and national level, integrate TB issues into national policies and conduct TB stigma index.

The discussants included Dr Nii Nortey Hanson- Nortey, Deputy Programmes Manager, National TB Control Programme, Ghana Health Service, Mr Austin Arinze Obiefuna, General Overseer and President of Afro Global Alliance and Miss Olive C. Mumba, Executive Director, Eastern Africa Network of Aids Service Organisation.

According to Mr Obiefuna, “stigma is a major barrier to assessing TB treatment and has contributed to the low rate of detection of the disease in the country.”

He stated that this stigma is fuelled by traditional leaders sighting the obnoxious name giving to the disease in the local languages as a clear example of the stigma attached to the disease and how it hinders people from getting treatment when infected.

“Due to this, there was the need to adopt different communications strategies and engage traditional leaders to communicate the message to shape the mindset of people through culture since they are the custodians of the land,” Mr Obiefuna said.

He said this would propel people to go for treatment without the fear of being stigmatized and even act as advocates for the disease.

Mr Obiefuna added that TB survivors should be engaged at the community and national level to share their experiences in order to influence and change people’s attitude towards TB.

Madam Mumba also suggested that there was the need to engage more civil society groups and the media to educate people on the disease.

She expressed the belief that the lack of information on the disease was also a contributing factor to the stigma being attached to the disease.

She said a lot of people were privy to the fact that the disease was airborne and could be easily contracted when one came into close contact with an infected person.

But Madam Olive explained that that was not always the case since there were measures that one could take to prevent himself from getting the infection. She, therefore, urged that more education should be done to inform people about the disease.

She also said policies and laws concerning TB should be developed both at the community and national level to protect and support TB patients.

Mr Hanson-Nortey also said another way to reduce stigma was to prioritize stigma reduction activities concerning TB on the national level.

He said this would propel the government to allocate budget and resources to support the course.

He also said there should be a sustained effort of NGO’s and civic groups to work with.

He said his outfit has developed a concept where chiefs, musicians and other prominent and popular individuals in the country would act as ambassadors and advocate for the disease and encouraged other Africa countries battling with the disease to emulate the Ghanaian practices to fight the disease in their various countries.

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