TB is a major health problem in Kazakhstan, where it kills many people every year.
The disease is curable but its impact is made worse by poverty, social exclusion and the spread of HIV. When people are infected with both diseases their effects are even more serious, and having HIV puts people at greater risk of getting TB.
That’s why the Kazakh Red Crescent is giving practical and emotional support to thousands of vulnerable people with TB and HIV, encouraging them to finish their treatment and helping with everything from food parcels to legal advice. It is also educating the public, cutting infection rates and tackling stigma about the diseases.
Sholpan Ramazanova, Kazakh Red Crescent programme manager, says: “TB is the biggest killer of people living with HIV. Our programme saves lives by helping people get through long treatments and supporting them in the face of social stigma.”
In 2011, the World Health Organisation estimated 168 of every 100,000 people in Kazakhstan had TB. The estimated number of people living with HIV in the country rose from 1,800 in 2001 to 13,000 in 2009 according to the United Nations’ UNAIDS programme – a rise fuelled by growing drug use.
Making a difference
The British Red Cross has been helping the Kazakh Red Crescent support people affected by TB and HIV since 2005, and a new two-year programme to carry on this work started in January 2012. It covers five areas of the country and will benefit 1,500 people with the diseases.
About half will have spent time in prison, where the rate of TB transmission is very high. Other vulnerable people set to benefit include sex workers, migrants and drug users. The programme also educates and supports their families, and informs others in the community about the illnesses.
As well as training health workers and volunteers, the project is setting up peer support networks so people with experience of TB and HIV can help others complete their treatment. The drugs used to treat the diseases have unpleasant side effects that sometimes mean patients stop taking them. Not only does that mean they probably won’t be cured, but when they start taking the drugs again their body might have built up a resistance to the medication.
The project also makes sure people with TB and HIV get regular food and hygiene packs, which improve their quality of life and make them more likely to tackle challenges like taking their medication and finding work.
Psychologists, social workers and lawyers also provide support for people with HIV and TB. Legal help is essential because people with TB and HIV are often discriminated against, and it is sometimes hard to find employment and housing or even register for citizenship.
Working in partnership©Info
The Red Crescent is also working with other charities, the Kazakh government and communities to share knowledge, change attitudes and build links that will improve the lives of people with TB and HIV.
Sholpan Baimurzina, AIDS centre director from the country’s Ministry of Health, says: “We provide medication to people living with HIV – many are from the most vulnerable sector of the population, with low-income backgrounds.
“But to reach these people and ensure treatments are followed, we need the social support that the Red Crescent provides. This is exactly what was missing in our programme, so when the Red Crescent came to us to suggest this partnership, we were very enthusiastic.”