One Young Woman’s TB Advocacy Inspires a Village

March 7th, 2023 | story


Stigma and discrimination are significant barriers to tuberculosis (TB) testing and treatment adherence. But in a village of about 1,000 households in Northern Kyrgyzstan, a 28-year-old mother of three is on a journey to change that. For the past six years, Saadat Tamanbaeva has been working for the health promotion unit (HPU), which aims to improve health and lifestyle behaviors and increase access to health care service through education, advocacy, and community mobilization.

When Saadat learned that Daniyar, a young man in her village, had been diagnosed with a drug-resistant form of TB, she knew she had to help. She began talking to his neighbors and friends and organizing community meetings to dispel myths and misconceptions about TB and explain the importance of community support for treatment adherence and completion.

“I am an active person. I like working with people and helping them. Through advocacy and educational efforts, I can inspire others to get involved and make a difference in their communities,” Saadat says.

Daniyar, who lost his older sister to TB, was living alone, unemployed, malnourished, and had alcohol and mobility problems. Saadat linked her efforts with those of a village health committee (VHC) that gave Daniyar regular meals and fuel for heating and helped him collect and complete documents for social allowances.

VHCs also help dispel TB misinformation and stigma in their communities. Many people fail to seek treatment because they lack education on TB symptoms and successful treatment outcomes, or avoid communication with fellow community members or health providers. By working together to reduce stigma and discrimination, VHCs and HPUs can shift attitudes about TB and support patients and their families while improving early diagnosis and adherence to treatment.

The USAID Cure Tuberculosis project provides nationwide training and education programs on TB, social and behavior change (SBC), counseling, advocacy, and community mobilization. In its first three years, the project trained more than 30,700 HPU specialists, community and religious leaders, and volunteers to apply SBC approaches to their work with the general population and TB patients. Saadat joined 105 HPU specialists from across the country in a training-of-trainers on SBC in TB. The trainees will share these SBC approaches with VHCs to strengthen their work to support TB patients and their families, and encourage behaviors for early diagnosis, infection control, and completion of treatment.

Before Saadat got involved, Daniyar’s neighbors didn’t want to help or even talk to him. Pairing the knowledge and skills she learned from the training with her personal drive to help her community, Saadat and the VHC convinced Daniyar’s neighbors that he needed their assistance and they could provide it in ways that didn’t risk their own health. As a result, they visited him with food, helped with household chores, and aided in his transportation to monthly medical appointments.

With his community’s support, Daniyar completed treatment and is cured of TB. He found a job and continues to live in his village, which he now knows will come to his aid. Saadat’s efforts will have a ripple effect; since people in her village understand that TB can be cured and that patients deserve support and empathy rather than discrimination, more people like Daniyar will get the help and care they need.

Saadat continues to decrease stigma and increase access to TB care and treatment. She says that seeing the benefits of her efforts on patients and the community is the true reward. “When we work together and believe in our cause, we can achieve great things.”

A group of six people pose for a photo
Saadat (third from left) visits a TB doctor's office in northern Kyrgyzstan.

Photos: Ksenia Basova for JSI

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