One might not immediately think of tuberculosis as a deadly disease, but in 2015 it killed more than 1.8 million people, according to the World Health Organization. That’s more than HIV and malaria.
Tuberculosis (TB) is curable, but it requires a course of medication that lasts months or years and is not always available to everyone with the disease. While TB treatment saved 49 million lives globally between 2000 and 2015, one-third of the people who contracted TB in 2015 did not receive adequate TB care, according to the World Health Organization.
On World TB Day, observed on March 24, Abt Associates joins global efforts toward the goal of “leaving no one behind” in accessing quality TB treatment. Abt is fighting TB in multiple high-burden countries by coordinating with governments, civil society, and private health providers at the national and local levels.
Kyrgyzstan: Preventing the Spread of Drug-Resistant TB
For example, Abt is leading the Defeat TB project, a USAID-funded, five-year effort in Kyrgyzstan that began in 2014. The project contributes to limit the development of drug-resistant strains of the disease, supports equitable access to quality health care for vulnerable groups, and strengthens the Kyrgyzstan national healthcare system.
Approximately 5,500 people in Kyrgyzstan are diagnosed with TB each year. Kyrgyzstan has one of the highest prevalence rates of drug resistant TB in the world: An estimated 26 percent of new cases diagnosed are “multi-drug resistant” or even “extremely multi-drug resistant.” The treatment of these cases requires daily doses of a dozen or more medications for two years, and patients are often hospitalized for extended periods.
The Defeat TB project has carried out several simultaneous efforts to address drug-resistant TB, including:
- Supporting a move away from lengthy hospitalization — which can last for many months or even years — of all TB patients and instead advocating for internationally recommended outpatient treatment in appropriate cases. This reduces the spread of drug-resistant TB to patients with a less-resilient TB strain and allows patients to continue to work and care for their families;
The Defeat TB project, led by Abt Associates, has trained nearly 3,200 doctors, nurses, lab workers, and other stakeholders to provide improved TB care.Supporting the rollout and use of TB testing technology and improving the biological material transport system, to reduce the time needed to receive TB diagnoses and to improve the accuracy of those diagnoses;
Photo credit: Olivier LeBlanc
- Conducting public outreach to migrant populations in Kyrgyzstan to increase the detection and treatment of more drug-resistant TB cases; and
- Training nearly 3,200 doctors, nurses, lab workers, and other stakeholders to provide improved TB care.
“This multifaceted approach is needed for a disease as contagious and stubborn as TB,” said Ainura Ibraimova, chief of party for the Defeat TB project.
The Defeat TB project also supported the development of a roadmap for TB system restructuring that the World Health Organization considers a model for the former Soviet countries.
Reducing TB’s Social Stigma
Social stigma is one of the main impediments to containing the spread of TB. In Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere, if people learn that you have TB – even close relatives – they may avoid you because they fear catching TB. So people delay getting tested for TB, which further spreads this airborne disease.
Ulukbu Amiraeva personally experienced the fallout from this stigma when she contracted TB many years ago. She is now a well-known morning news show host who broadcasts in a region of Southwest Kyrgyzstan where 400,000 people live.
Amiraeva is one of 51 journalists trained educated so far by the Defeat TB project on how to provide accurate news coverage of TB. These efforts have led to increased public awareness that the disease is preventable and curable.
“I consider it my civic duty to educate people about TB to reduce stigma in order to protect my fellow citizens from the TB-related difficulties that I had to face,” Amiraeva said.
When Amiraeva contracted TB, her husband left her, she lost her job, and friends and family who had been close to her distanced themselves partly because of misconceptions about TB. She, however, successfully completed her TB treatment.
After the training of journalists, Amiraeva boldly shared her story on the air and encouraged people to seek testing quickly if they suspect they have TB.
“The more truth there is about TB, the better,” Amiraeva said.
Read more about the Defeat TB project on Facebook.
Learn more about Abt’s work in TB