Boddeti's hard-won battle against TB

48-year-old Boddeti Lakshmi is in her fourth month of treatment for tuberculosis (TB). Her battle began in 2019 with a severe cough. At the time, Boddeti was caring for her husband, who had suffered a stroke four years earlier. She tried several home-based remedies for her cough, then medicines from a nearby chemist, but found no respite. Over a span of five months, her condition worsened to such an extent she finally visited a private clinic in her neighborhood. The doctor prescribed a 15-day course of cough medicines and sent her home.

In early 2020 and with no improvement in her condition, Boddeti decided to consult Dr Girivara at the Pavani Medical Centre. By now, Boddeti had been suffering for eight months. Immediately, Dr Girivara referred her to JEET (Joint Effort for Elimination of Tuberculosis). JEET staff visited Boddeti in her home, where the JEET hub agent collected a sputum sample, which was sent through a sample collection transporter for testing by CBNAAT (cartridge-based nucleic acid amplification test).

Boddeti was finally correctly diagnosed with TB. With the support of JEET staff, she was able to overcome the initial shock of her diagnosis, and resolved to confront her illness. “I was immediately initiated on treatment, but I suffered from severe side effects from the drugs.” Side effects from TB treatment can be mild for some patients and very severe for others. Extreme side effects act as deterrents to completing the TB treatment, interrupting recovery. An interrupted TB treatment can also lead to drug resistance, which is an even more dangerous form of TB. For Boddeti, the bouts of nausea, vomiting, headaches, pain and tingling in her feet took their toll. She received counselling from a JEET treatment coordinator (TC), who explained the dire consequences of abandoning TB treatment mid-way. She began making small changes to her daily routine to better deal with the treatment and started focusing on recovery. Gradually, with the assistance of the JEET TC, regular intake of her TB medicines and a nutritious diet, she began showing signs of improvement.

Boddeti’s journey was not an easy one. Not only did she have to contend with terrible side effects, but her adult children began neglecting her. Furthermore, the community ostracized her because of fear of contagion. The stigma around TB remains a critical challenge in India. Irrespective of their economic and social background, most TB patients are forced to remain silent about their disease. Very often, TB is associated with a sense of shame, discrimination, neglect, abandonment, not to mention loss of livelihood.

The stigma of TB affects women disproportionately. Women continue to hide their disease out of fear of ostracization and abandonment. Boddeti, however, chose to be open about her diagnosis with both her community and family. She braved all criticism and took all the necessary precautions to not infect anyone in her vicinity by maintaining a social distance, frequently disinfecting her household, using a handkerchief when coughing, and never leaving her house without wearing a mask.

Today, Boddeti receives free TB drugs from a government facility. Throughout her ordeal, she has shown great will power and courage. “If god decides to give me a long life, I will help other TB patients to fight their difficulties, for I have gone through these phases, and I understand the pain very well. I want to ensure that no TB patient is ever discriminated against. It is important to fight the stigma of the disease and not the TB patient.”

More on the JEET project.