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End stigmatizing language in tuberculosis research and practice

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 23 March 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1479
  1. Mike Frick, project officer, Treatment Action Group, New York, NY, USA,
  2. Dalene von Delft, cofounder, TB Proof, Cape Town, South Africa,
  3. Blessina Kumar, chair, Global Coalition of TB Activists, New Delhi, India
  1. Correspondence to: M Frick mike.frick{at}

Terms that invoke metaphors of transgression and punishment cause harm, say Mike Frick, Dalene von Delft, and Blessina Kumar

After years of relative quiet,1 advocacy in the global response to tuberculosis is growing louder and increasingly includes the voices of people who have been affected themselves.2 One priority identified by this growing movement is to stop the stigmatizing language still commonplace in research and practice. This is long overdue; indeed, stigma resulting from discriminatory terms may have discouraged the advocacy now calling for reformed discourse.3

In 2012 Zachariah and colleagues called for an end to stigmatizing language in tuberculosis programs, an appeal supported by the Stop TB Partnership.4 5 Unfortunately, three years later, the Stop TB Partnership’s guidance document on patient centered language remains in draft,6 and health professionals in many programs worldwide still use stigmatizing terms. These remain rife in journal articles, conference abstracts, and even some treatment guidelines, as well as in technical expert meetings.

It is no coincidence that the language used in tuberculosis—often called a disease of poverty—mirrors the stigmatizing language used to describe …

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