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The Global community marks World TB Day on the 24th day of March each year. Nigeria cannot afford to be left out in the commemoration, especially given the staggering statistics coming out of the country since the declaration of TB as a global health challenge in 1993. Nigeria currently oscillates between the 3rd and 4th among the 22 highest-burdened countries in the world. In fact, the country ranks 1st in Africa in terms of TB burden. Indeed, TB remains the world’s No. 1 cause of death from infectious diseases (has surpassed HIV and COVID 19), and still represents the leading cause of death among people living with HIV.

It must be admitted that the Nigerian situation has improved significantly in terms of TB early detection and treatment. A lot of lives have been saved in this direction. We commend the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTLCP) for this progress. What has often been overlooked in our clime is the gender and human rights approach in TB response. Of course, the lack of human rights protections makes people more vulnerable to developing TB disease; negatively affects the ability of People Affected by TB (PATB) to access effective treatment; and exposes PATB to stigma and discrimination. This is why attention is being turned globally (Nigeria inclusive) to enshrining the specific rights of PATB in the various National Action Plans. This follows the launching of the Declaration of the Rights of People Affected by Tuberculosis in Geneva, Switzerland in May 2019.

The Declaration of the Rights of People Affected by Tuberculosis delivers a set of claims and entitlements to PATB in addition to ensuring that governments and other service providers are aware of their commitments and obligations to protecting and promoting the rights of PATB. By it, People have the right to science and to be empowered to demand access to the most effective tuberculosis medicines, diagnostics and vaccines—those available now and that may be created in the future.

Without any fear of contradiction, PATB experiences infringements of their human rights on a daily basis. In far too many cases, they are given ‘less than human’ treatments both in private and public places. They lack access to effective testing and treatment, face discrimination in employment and health care settings, are even unnecessarily detained and isolated against their will, have restricted access to health information, and are given little or no access to TB treatment in hospitals.

The human rights approach to TB is also complemented by the gender-based approach which is grounded in the principles of gender equity. Globally, men and boys account for about 64% of TB cases. What this translates to is that approximately 2 men become infected with TB for every 1 woman or girl that is. Also, men account for about 63% of TB deaths among HIV-negative people. Statistics have equally shown that men are less likely to have their TB detected and reported than women. Research findings highlight how the notions of masculinity can negatively impact the health-seeking behaviour of men, which may be manifested as late or missing TB diagnoses and lower rates of TB treatment access and completion. Men are also more likely to engage in behaviour with an increased risk of TB, including smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug use. Gentlemen of the press, what all these demonstrate is the importance of the gender-based approach as well as a call for well-planned strategies in the gender response to TB.

Gentlemen of the press, for Nigeria to achieve a society where the rights of PATB are guaranteed; the government, right-based non-governmental organizations, and all stakeholders must make concerted efforts to ensure the following-

  • The incorporations of the rights of PATB as enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of People Affected by Tuberculosis launched in Geneva, Switzerland in May 2019 into our local laws.

  • The sensitization of both the judiciary and the legal communities about the rights of PATB and the implementation of the human rights-based approaches to TB.

  • The expansion of the capacity of legislators and policy makers to incorporate human rights-based approaches into TB laws and policies.

  • The immediate and rigorous sensitization of PATB and its various communities and networks to be aware of their rights and demand for same at all times.

  • The sensitization of health care workers in the public and private sectors on the need to integrate a human rights-based approach to TB in their day-to-day interactions with PATB.

  • The passage of TB-specific law in Nigeria to cater for the rights of PATB, discourage stigma and discrimination and increase access to health care services among others.

Lawyers Alert will next week, commencing in Lagos, hold training sessions for PATB on their rights and the human rights approaches to mitigating TB. This will also be replicated in Abuja.

We wish Nigeria and Nigerians a happy TB Week celebration.

Barr. Rommy Mom, President, Lawyers Alert Nigeria.

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