Joshna and Latifa struggle with the stigma of arsenicosis

Short report prepared by: Md. Zahangir Alam, Union Supervisor, Shologhar, Munshiganj.

Joshna (25) comes from a very poor family. She got married eight years ago and now has two children. Joshna grew up in one of the most arsenic affected areas in the Munshigonj district. From her childhood, she has been drinking arsenic contaminated water. Five years ago, Joshna began suffering from skin lesions, increased skin pigmentation, pain, weakness and sleeplessness. Her mother was affected by similar symptoms. For that reason, her father- and mother-in-law thought she was suffering from a contagious disease. Her husband began to use separate kitchen utensils, towels, etc. Joshna tried to find safe water, but there were no deep tube-wells. Recently, she began to collect water from her neighbor’s home, but sometime they forbid her to take water and she has no choice but to use arsenic contaminated water or walk further to get surface water for cooking. Because of her disease, she sometimes was unable to cook and walk properly. Gradually, she began to be neglected by her family and community.

When AMRF staff visited her area, she shared her present condition with them. They identified possible arsenicosis symptoms and referred her to AITAM (partner NGO of AMRF) where she was diagnosed as an arsenicosis patient and was prescribed treatment. After some time, her mother also came for treatment. Both are now trying to take medicine regularly and the AMRF staff follows up on her as often as they can. Her mother-in-law has recently also been showing symptoms of arsenicosis poisoning and has been referred to AMRF head office. Joshna is now doing everything she can to fight this disease and motivate others to drink safe water.

Latifa (50) lives a few kilometers away with her husband Abdus and eight children. For a long time, Latifa has been drinking arsenic contaminated water. As a housewife, she was bound to work around the house and had no alternative but to drink from their arsenic contaminated shallow tube-well. Latifa began to suffer from skin lesions, pigmentation, overall pain and weakness. She did not share this with her family and community because she feared she might be stigmatized. She has now been diagnosed with arsenicosis by AMRF and has been getting regular treatment. Through awareness programmes, the community has been informed of the causes and consequences of arsenic. Two years ago, she also gained access to arsenic free water from a new deep tube-well. Like Joshna, Latifa is now motivating the people around her to face this disease, get treatment and search for safe water sources.

For more information about our approach to treating arsenicosis patients, please read our publication: Beyond medical treatment, arsenic poisoning in rural Bangladesh.

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