USAID Cure Tuberculosis Project Commemorates World TB Day 2021

Throughout March, the USAID Cure Tuberculosis Project (Cure Tuberculosis) and its partners organized a number of events to acknowledge World Tuberculosis (TB) Day and encourage conversations about TB prevention, treatment, and cure in the Kyrgyz Republic. Last year, most World TB Day events were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which presented particular challenges for people with TB, who are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection, and the health care workers supporting them. This year’s World TB Day events highlighted their perseverance in continuing treatment and providing care during the pandemic and renewed the call to action to prevent TB.

On March 24, the official date of World TB Day, Cure Tuberculosis organized a live panel of TB specialists to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on the TB situation in the Kyrgyz Republic. As in much of the world, the focus on COVID-19 diverted attention from diseases like TB, and case detection decreased, which may lead to an increase in TB cases. The panelists highlighted how, despite the barriers posed by lockdowns and other restrictions, health care workers came up with new ways to help people adhere to TB treatment, which can be long and difficult.

Kaktus Media broadcast the event on Facebook. Almost 2,000 people tuned in live and thousands more watched the video of the stream on Kaktus’ and other social media channels. The U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, Donald Lu, prerecorded an address highlighting stories of people with TB who completed their treatment and the courageous health workers who supported them in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ambassador Lu also discussed his personal experience with the disease. Watch his address below.

As part of the event, Saparbek, a 38-year-old father of four who works in retail, recounted what it was like to be diagnosed with TB at the beginning of the pandemic. In the chaos of travel restrictions, food shortages, and hospitals filling with COVID-19 patients, people with TB had to figure out how to continue their treatment, which often requires frequent trips to a health facility.

The Cure Tuberculosis project’s social and behavior change team organized an online storytelling campaign called “What Have I Done to Defeat Tuberculosis?” Asyl Imanalieva, chair of the Taldybulak Village Health Committee in Talas Oblast, told of a young man with who hadn’t paid much attention to the information she provided about preventing TB. He contracted TB while working in Russia and initially refused to tell his parents. Once he did, they brought him home and admitted him to a TB hospital. After completing a two-year course of treatment, he told Asyl, “My big mistake was that I did not immediately seek help. If I’d known that tuberculosis was curable and it was important to diagnose and start treatment earlier, I would have prevented this.”

Asyl Imanalieva, chair of the Taldybulak Village Health Committee in Talas Oblast,

Aida Abytalieva, a medical laboratory assistant at Kemin Rayon Family Medicine Center in Chui Oblast, told of working with a woman and three of her children who were living with TB. Aida provided medical and psychological support through their course of treatment, saying “I prioritized helping this family – it was my job. I was very happy when they completed the treatment – this was my personal victory, too!”

Aida Abytalieva, a medical laboratory assistant at Kemin Rayon Family Medicine Center

With support from Cure Tuberculosis, the National Tuberculosis Center hosted a drawing contest for children receiving treatment in its children’s ward and at Bishkek Children’s TB Hospital. About 50 children submitted a drawing to reflect that “The World is Brighter Without Tuberculosis!” The contest educated kids and their families about TB prevention and treatment, and gave children undergoing the long course of TB treatment a pleasant distraction.

A winning drawing, submitted by Almira, age 6.
A winning drawing, “We will defeat tuberculosis,” submitted by Bubusanam, age 13.

Left: A winning drawing, submitted by Almira, age 6. Right: A winning drawing, “We will defeat tuberculosis,” submitted by Bubusanam, age 13.

The project’s sub-grantees held mass events across the country to reach people in their communities with information on TB. These included flash mobs, games, quizzes, and outdoor physical activities to engage people in World TB Day.

On March 24, patronage nurses from the National Red Crescent Society (NRCS) in the Kyrgyz Republic boarded a train from Kara-Balta to Bishkek, the capital, to talk with passengers about TB prevention and treatment. The NRCS also hosted a bike ride down the central street of Kara-Balta, where the national hospital for multi-drug resistant TB is located. The ride culminated in the release of white balloons, symbolizing clean breathing and healthy lungs, into the sky.

NRCS nurses in front of the train bound for Bishkek. The balloons and white daisies symbolize the effort to end TB in the Kyrgyz Republic and neighboring countries.

An NRCS nurse talks with a train passenger about TB prevention, treatment, and cure.

NRCS nurses and volunteers ride through the streets of Kara-Balta with messages about TB.

In the city of Tokmak, volunteers organized a flash mob “For clean lungs!” and danced on the city’s square with white daisies in their hands. Health care workers, law enforcement officers, and local government officials marched along the streets of the town of Talas with signs about TB and held a “What do I know about TB?” quiz with people in the market.

Patronage nurses and other health care professionals, volunteers, village health committee members, and local authorities in Batken, Chui, Talas, Naryn, and Jalal-Abad Oblasts held public events to raise awareness about TB and eliminate stigma and discrimination against people who have it.

Cure Tuberculosis and its partners reached 1.3 million people in-person and online through this year’s World TB Day events, and will continue organizing TB awareness-raising events throughout the year.

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