Each year in the Kyrgyz Republic, more than 5,500 people are diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB), and nearly 400 die from this infectious disease. At particular risk are individuals experiencing financial difficulties, migrant workers, substance abusers, people living with HIV and AIDS, and the homeless.
These vulnerable populations do not always have access to quality public health information, such as accurate TB symptoms or TB treatment options. Many can’t afford to stop work to complete TB treatment, which can take months. So efforts to reduce TB must include outreach to them.
The USAID-funded Defeat TB Project, implemented by Abt Associates and partners, is a five-year endeavor designed to reduce the burden of tuberculosis in the Kyrgyz Republic. The project is working to limit the transmission of drug-resistant strains of the disease, support equitable access to quality health care for vulnerable groups, and strengthen the national healthcare system.
Providing Accurate TB Information
To improve access to TB care for vulnerable populations, the Defeat TB Project partnered with the National Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan to support TB patients where they live. Volunteers and nurses visit households in neighborhoods prone to higher TB infection rates to provide information about TB, as well as clinical and socio-economic assistance to vulnerable individuals infected with TB.
Volunteers such as Baymirbek and nurses such as Gulnara have helped more than 3,000 vulnerable people with TB symptoms get tested. Of those, 160 cases were confirmed, and approximately 1,700 TB patients received support to successfully complete their treatment, including previously diagnosed people. Baymirbek is one of nearly 200 volunteers who, in the last two years, have visited a total of more than 50,000 households in areas with large migrant populations. He goes from house to house providing useful information about the disease and reduces the social stigma associated with TB by correcting misperceptions.
Baymirbek lives in the area where he volunteers. "I know everybody here, so it is easy for me to know if someone needs help," he said. When he notices that someone might have TB during a household visit, he provides information on how to get tested and receive medical care.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In parallel with these volunteer efforts, a network of patronage nurses closely supports approximately 150 TB patients undergoing daily treatment.
Gulnara, who has worked as a patronage nurse for more than 10 years, cares for 20 patients who live on the outskirts of Bishkek, the capital city. She helps them buy food, brings them medicine when they are too ill to leave the house, follows up with their health care provider on treatment progress, and provides moral support. It may sound simple, but some patients would not be able to complete their treatment without this kind of assistance.
One of these patients is Nina. She also has HIV, cannot work, has no savings, and looks after her teenage son. She greatly needs Gulnara's help, which includes the provision of monthly food vouchers to make ends meet.
“There were days when I was so weak that I could not make the trip to the clinic for my treatment,” Nina said. “Having a nurse to visit me at home with the medicine was critical to avoid interrupting my treatment.”
Volunteers such as Baymirbek and nurses such as Gulnara have helped more than 3,000 vulnerable people with TB symptoms get tested. Of those, 160 cases were confirmed, and approximately 1,700 TB patients received support to successfully complete their treatment, including previously diagnosed people.
Coupled with Defeat TB’s initiatives to improve the health system’s ability to provide quality TB services, Baymirbek and Gulnara’s efforts are bringing the country closer to once and for all defeating tuberculosis.