Fighting tuberculosis, Sr. Roberta Pignone's daily mission
by Sumon Corraya

Today is World Day for the fight against a disease that still causes 100 deaths a day in Bangladesh. The testimony of a Missionary of the Immaculate, a doctor, active for 12 years in Khulna on this frontier: "Many still do not know TB and arrive when they are already serious. By treating them I am a sign of Jesus' love for all".

Khulna (AsiaNews) - Today is World Tuberculosis Day, a disease that remains a serious public health problem in many countries in Asia.

According to the World Health Organisation, six of the countries with a high burden of tuberculosis globally are in South Asia and the South-East Asian region: Bangladesh, North Korea, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand, plus Nepal in the narrow statistic of multi-drug resistant forms of the disease.

In Bangladesh, a new person falls ill every minute and an average of 100 people die of TB every day.

The theme of this year's Day is "Yes! We can beat TB!". And it is the challenge that Sr Roberta Pignone, an Italian nun of the Missionaries of the Immaculate (the PIME sisters), has been carrying out every day for 12 years in Bangladesh.

She works among the poor in the slums of the Khulna diocese, treating those who come to seek help, especially those suffering from leprosy and TB. In addition to a small 33-bed hospital, 3 outpatient clinics and 15 TB control centres, Sr Roberta's work involves intense outreach work through the streets of Khulna to educate the people and treat the suffering. Every day, she lovingly cares for around 40 patients.

"With my care for tuberculosis patients, I am a sign of Jesus' love," she tells AsiaNews. "Being needy, many patients cannot afford nutritious food, so in addition to medicine we also provide them with free nourishment."

Sr. Pignone, who is project director and doctor at Damien Hospital, explains that for many years the Missionaries of the Immaculate were already serving leprosy patients in Bangladesh, and since 2012, they have also started to care for TB patients.

"We found that gradually leprosy patients were decreasing but TB patients were increasing. Now in our hospital in Khulna, half of the beds are for them," describes the doctor.

"Many people do not know about tuberculosis," continues the Missionary of the Immaculate Conception, "Lately, they come to us when their situation is already serious. We advise the sick to also diagnose other family members and follow them up with special treatment. We carry out an awareness-raising programme to protect against this disease'.

The Bangladesh government provides the medicines, while Caritas helps to run the hospital. Sr. Roberta says she is happy to be able to serve the people of Bangladesh in this way, without religious distinction. "In our hospital, more than 95 per cent of the patients are non-Christians and by offering them love, I bring a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus".

Prof Ahmedul Kabir, deputy director-general of the Bangladesh Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told AsiaNews that according to DGHS data, 307,561 new patients were diagnosed in the country in 2021, while another 67,439 are believed to be undetected.

"We are working to end or at least control this disease by 2030," he added. "But to achieve this goal, we need to raise awareness among people about the symptoms, diagnosis and availability of treatments."