Wednesday morning saw TB campaigners, health professionals and MPs gathered at Portcullis House for a breakfast reception hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Tuberculosis. The focus of the event was to explore the gender-specific dynamics of this devastating disease and the impact this has on families and communities in the developing world.
Annette Brooke MP, vice-Chair of the APPG TB, opened proceedings by welcoming the speakers. The audience heard from Grace Mukasa, the Chief Executive of AMREF UK, Sarah Martin from MSF, the Financial Times’ health journalist, Andrew Jack, and Dr Antima Gupta, a TB Researcher from Birkbeck, University of London. Speakers addressed both the obstacles for women accessing TB diagnosis, treatment and care; and the impact that the unnecessary deaths of 700,000 women from TB each year has on their families and communities.
Each speaker addressed specific issues, but several common themes were repeated throughout the event. Stigma prevents many women from accessing TB services, as they fear the response that they will face from family members and others if they are diagnosed with the disease. The fear is so great that many women are forced to leave their family home if they are diagnosed with TB. A lack of understanding of the disease within communities, a lack of education about services available and the financial marginalisation of women also contribute to women being less able to access TB services. Women’s vital role as mothers, often at the heart of family life, mean that if a she has undiagnosed TB she is more likely to pass this on to her children. TB is also a major risk factor in maternal mortality, with TB-positive women four-times more likely to die during child birth. TB should clearly be viewed as a priority for women’s health.
The event was particularly timely as the Government’s new Maternal and Newborn Health Business Plan is due to be published later this month. This is a key opportunity for the Government to place TB recommendations at the centre of their strategy to improve women’s health.