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Clinic closure leaves victims nowhere to go

TB rages unchecked in Bangladesh, with few options available for free treatment

One of the posters for the WHO's World TB Day
One of the posters for the WHO's World TB Day
  • Robin Bhabuk, Barisal
  • Bangladesh
  • March 28, 2011
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It closed its doors a year ago, yet people still come in their hundreds to the Gournadi Tuberculosis Clinic in Barisal, hoping to find treatment for the TB infection that is rampant in Bangladesh.

Gournadi was the only Church-run center in the south that offered TB protection free of charge. Clearly, it is still missed.

“Thousands of TB sufferers in the area used to flock here and we rendered them proper treatment," says Bijoy Roy, a former physician at the clinic. "This is a blow, especially for poor people. They're hoping it will come back into service.”

"We were forced to close it because of a funding crisis," said Father Barun Gomes, the local parish priest. "I don’t know if we can reinstate it again.”

On World TB Day March 24, The World Health Organization (WHO) detailed a new form of TB, MRD-TB, resistant to the first line of drugs formulated to fight the disease, and forecast there will be more than 2 million new cases of MDR-TB between 2011 and 2015.

Set up in 1976 by Italian missioner Sister Marie, the free clinic has helped thousands successfully. But it has been dogged by financial troubles; this is the second time it has had to close through lack of funds.

After its closure in 1987 it was re-opened the following year by Father Ezio Mascaretti, with the help of foreign donations. But funding declined over time. Now, once again, the clinic stands empty.

Alternatives are few and far between. There are only two other Church-run centers that give free treatment and both are in the north west, at the opposite end of the country. Yet the need for more is evident and urgent.

The TB infection, which mainly attacks the lungs, is carried on the air when people who are actively infected cough, sneeze, or spit. In most cases it remains latent in the body, but if it develops into a full-blown case, the likelihood of fatality is 50%.

According to the WHO, about half of Bangladesh’s adult population suffer from TB; around 70,000 die of it annually. Studies show conclusively that low-income people with no education are by far the most vulnerable.

Meanwhile, at the Gournadi Clinic, sufferers are still waiting at the doors.
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