Background: There is evidence that female gender is associated with reduced likelihood of tuberculosis diagnosis and successful treatment. This study aimed to characterize gender-related barriers to tuberculosis control in Peruvian shantytowns.
Methods: We investigated attitudes and experiences relating gender to tuberculosis using the grounded theory approach to describe beliefs amongst key tuberculosis control stakeholders. These issues were explored in 22 semi-structured interviews and in four focus group discussions with 26 tuberculosis patients and 17 healthcare workers.
Results: We found that the tuberculosis program was perceived not to be gender discriminatory and provided equal tuberculosis diagnostic and treatment care to men and women. This contrasted with stereotypical gender roles in the broader community context and a commonly expressed belief amongst patients and healthcare workers that female health inherently has a lower priority than male health. This belief was principally associated with men's predominant role in the household economy and limited employment for women in this setting. Women were also generally reported to experience the adverse psychosocial and economic consequences of tuberculosis diagnosis more than men.
Conclusions: There was a common perception that women's tuberculosis care was of secondary importance to that of men. This reflected societal gender values and occurred despite apparent gender equality in care provision. The greatest opportunities for improving women's access to tuberculosis care appear to be in improving social, political and economic structures, more than tuberculosis program modification.