Illustration: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Every year on March 24th, the world celebrates World Tuberculosis Day, an occasion to remind leaders and communities about the urgency to fight this disease. “It’s an event that we at the UNDP observe with a lot of attention, because eliminating TB is one of our priorities”, said Louise Chamberlain, UNDP Resident Representative, in her statement.

“In these times of a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever to reinforce health care systems and protect vulnerable populations, including patients with tuberculosis”, she said. Patients with tuberculosis and other coinfections are at higher risks of developing difficult forms of the new coronavirus. Everything has to be done to ensure that they can continue their treatment safely while protecting themselves from COVID2019.

COVID2019 and tuberculosis are both diseases that affect the lungs. Lung health is vital and there is nothing more essential to the human being than breathing. 

Illustration: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

It’s necessary for the entire population to show solidarity and respect health advice to avoid being infected and infecting others with COVID2019 (regularly wash your hands with soap or disinfectant for at least 20 seconds, cough and sneeze in your elbow or in a disposable tissue, wear a mask in crowded places, avoid contact with other people). “Vulnerable people should be placed first in our fight against the new virus”, said Louise Chamberlain.

Tuberculosis is the world’s deadliest infectious disease. In Kyrgyzstan, around 8000 people are treated for TB each year. This year, the global slogan for World TB Day is “It’s time.” It’s time to do more to end TB. We need to accelerate our common fight against this disease, to save more lives, to prevent further infections and to build a world free of tuberculosis. This is one of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.

Since 2011, the UNDP has been implementing the Global Fund grant, one of which’s priorities is to eliminate tuberculosis. Activities include improving diagnostic, providing quality treatment and supporting patients. 

Illustration: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

The UNDP purchases quality drugs for more than 1,200 patients every year, thus helping the government provide free treatment for all. TB is preventable and curable, but only if patients systematically take their treatment and complete it.

Together with partners and the National TB Program, the UNDP has developed support methods to help patients complete their treatment. Since summer 2018, the UNDP, the Bishkek TB Hospital and the National Red Crescent Society work in the capital to return non-adherent patients to treatment and provide at-home treatment for patients in difficult situations. As a result, the rate of patients lost-to-follow-up (ie who have interrupted treatment for two months or more) in Bishkek has dropped from more than 20 % to around 4% only.  Similar services to avoid treatment interruption are being implemented in the entire country since summer 2019.

The UNDP also provides treatment supporters to bring pills and injections to patients’ homes in Bishkek if they are not able to go to the clinic themselves. These are patients who have co-infections, handicaps, financial difficulties, addictions, small children, or who are non-adherent. Innovative treatment methods such as video observed treatment, which allows patients to take their treatment in the comfort of their home, are starting to be used throughout the country. 

The UNDP gives particular attention to the youngest patients by financing MRT tests for children with suspected TB. This allows doctors to diagnose and treat children on time. In 2019, 616 children were able to be scanned for TB, and 157 of them were diagnosed with TB and started on treatment.

It’s time to improve TB diagnostic and find the missing cases. It’s time to provide the best treatment and to help patients, including the youngest and most vulnerable. It’s time to end TB.

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