A qualitative review: the stigma of tuberculosis

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Background.Tuberculosis is a major health problem internationally and brings with it a range of physical, economic and social consequences. There is a stigma associated with having tuberculosis because the disease is commonly viewed as a ‘dirty disease’. This stigma can have a negative impact on an individual and may delay the person seeking treatment.Aims.The aim of this review was to explore the stigma and impact of having tuberculosis or having a family member with tuberculosis.Design.Literature review.Method.A comprehensive search of the electronic databases was undertaken. Inclusion criteria for the review were studies that investigated people with tuberculosis or their families, focused on the stigma or impact of tuberculosis and reported descriptions of the experience. Data were synthesised using a thematic analysis.Results.The literature search identified thirty studies. Three themes emerged from the synthesis: shame, isolation and fear. The shame related to tuberculosis being viewed as a bad disease, a dirty disease. Isolation involved both the withdrawal from social contact and the shunning of contact by other people. Fear was a consequence of the many difficulties that accompany tuberculosis. These factors operated at three levels, on the individual level, the family level and the societal level.Conclusion.The stigma that accompanies tuberculosis can have a negative impact on the individual and family and may result in their withdrawal from society because of shame and fear. The review highlights the need for education to provide practical strategies for individuals and families and to educate communities where tuberculosis is endemic.Relevance to clinical practice.The review highlights the widespread ignorance of tuberculosis and need for education of the individual, family and community. This education should provide practical strategies to help people cope with tuberculosis. It also suggests that ensuring confidentiality should be an important component of management strategies.

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