Written by by Cate McQuade
Maria Iungerich lives as the only Roma woman in her small German village. She wears a traditional “half’s clothes” but with long-sleeved shirts, scarves and leather gloves and often has little money to buy them in the villages. She wears larger shoes than most, but the shoes go more than one or two sizes too big. On top of it all, she suffers from constant stomach aches.
Three years ago, Maria was diagnosed with diabetes. She takes insulin injections twice a day and undergoes regular checkups. She also goes to the emergency room several times a year to receive treatment for infections. “I’m all like this for a long time,” she says.
A difficult road
The tests that Maria must pass were not carried out by the Roma community, as if she were an infertile white woman on a transplant list. But she does not think of herself as different. “We Roma do not have a different life than the rest of the people in our town.”
Iungerich is extremely concerned about her health. By the age of 40, she is already more than four times over the EU’s ideal life expectancy of just under 70 years, and she does not have the time to care for herself.
According to European Parliament guidelines, Roma children should be vaccinated regularly until they turn 10 years old, and by 10 years old they should be vaccinated against five diseases: measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria and whooping cough.
This is not always done in areas where Roma live, although it is required by law for children who are travelling to and from school.
This is how doctors found out about Maria’s condition and the silent epidemic that she faces, where Iungerich is not alone.
According to data from the German Federal Health Office, between 2015 and 2017, 955 children under the age of 18 who were tested for signs of tuberculosis in Bavaria were found to be infected with the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Of these infections, only 21 were found in Roma children.
In 2013, researchers at the University of Chemnitz published a study in the journal “Interabachematologia,” estimating that as many as 15,000 Roma could be affected by TB, an infection that kills 1.7 million people a year. “There is a clear connection between Roma people and Mycobacterium tuberculosis,” the study concluded.
And the epidemic seems to have remained silent. “We are still at the beginning of this new disease,” says Chantal Kuijz at the European Center for the Study of Infectious Diseases (ECSI). “Our understanding of it is still limited.”