Bicycles keep TB prevention on track

27 Nov 2015

With a bicycle on hand, health volunteer Juzimgul Matirzaeva can share valuable information about Tuberculosis with isolated households With a bicycle on hand, health volunteer Juzimgul Matirzaeva can share valuable information about Tuberculosis with isolated households

"There was a TB patient who suspected that he might have had lung-related health issues, but because of limited information about the need for timely visits to the Rural Health Point and stigma-related issues, he preferred to hide the disease,” health volunteer Juzimgul Matirzaeva shared with UNDP staff, during a break in her busy schedule spreading news about the illness among vulnerable families in her local ‘Krantau’ village of 1,620 households. In her field, a majority of the work focuses on limiting the impacts of misinformation.

“Most people think that TB is incurable, and they try to keep themselves away from TB patients, but our awareness campaign has made a change in people’s perceptions of the disease.”

The spread of Tuberculosis (TB) in Uzbekistan’s far northwestern Karakalpakstan region has been one of the more intangible but nevertheless concerning impacts of the Aral Sea disaster, one bourgeoned by poor air quality and nutritional concerns. Fear of the illness, multiplied by a lack of knowledge of how it is spread and the effective treatments that are available, creates an atmosphere of stigma. 

To counter this rising concern, within the Aral Sea joint programme operating in western Uzbekistan, 1,730 community volunteers have been trained in spreading awareness of Tuberculosis among their communities. Ms. Matirzaeva was one of 55 such volunteers out of this group who in 2015 received national recognition and obtained new bicycles as rewards for their efforts, and then went on to obtain the even greater honor of a People’s Voices award offered on a global scale. 

It is the daily efforts of volunteers like Ms. Matirzaeva that help to keep her region’s most vulnerable families healthy. Amid their growing fame, she and her fellow volunteers have remained resolutely dedicated to their cause, utilizing the bikes as simple tools that are easy to maintain and highly practical for their work.

“Normally I visit 6 to 7 households every day, and since receiving the bike I do not have to walk and waste time reaching those remote households, which can be up to 8 kilometers apart,” Ms. Matirzaeva said. “I can now reach more households and share useful information on health issues, thereby keeping my community healthier and happier.”

“Having received the transportation needed to reach distant places, volunteers like myself have saved more time for disseminating information with the intention of increasing the population’s awareness of health issues, assuring them that the spread of disease can be stopped.”

Ms. Matirzaeva and her fellow volunteers work in direct collaboration with the local ‘Ornek-2’ Rural Health Point (RHP). With the help of especially-designed educational materials, and in partnerships with nurses from the RHP, Ms. Matrizaeva can advise families of healthy practices while also ‘busting’ dangerous myths.

In particular, the misconception that Tuberculosis is hereditary has been effectively challenged. In the past this belief has led to the isolation of families affected by Tuberculosis, resulting in vulnerable individuals not receiving the treatment they required. 

Ms. Matrizaeva also plays an essential role in producing local-level reports that track Tuberculosis cases in her community. In addition, she assists in the organization of community events that encourage other residents to become volunteers. 

“Volunteers like Ms. Matrizaeva are really essential for efforts in combatting the spread of Tuberculosis, and limiting the related stigmas, because they are familiar, trusted members of close-knit communities,” said Programme Coordinator Heli Nykänen.

“They also have valuable, grass-roots level knowledge, allowing for a broader-level Tuberculosis strategy to be adapted to meet the needs of individual communities, and thereby making it as effective as possible.”

One household supported by Juzimgul Matrizaeva is that headed by Shamsiya Qutekeeva, one of the 128,000 beneficiaries reached by volunteers in Karakalpakstan. Like in many other cases, the information provided by Ms. Matrizaeva has drastically changed the family’s perception of the illness.

“Our family previously thought that TB was incurable and only led to death, but after obtaining proper information from Juzimgul we now know it is curable, and we understand how it is transmitted and what prevention measures are available,” Ms. Qutekeeva said. “Also the notion that TB is genetic, which is feared by the population most of all, has been disproven.”

With the newly attained information, the Qutekeev household has adopted recommended practices that range from airing out rooms on a regularly basis, to keeping the house clean and letting in the sunlight that can kill bacteria. The family also practices better hygiene practices, including covering mouths when coughing or sneezing, and these rules are explained to all visitors.

With her new bicycle and continued support from UNDP, Ms. Matrizaeva can keep working to improve how her community addresses Tuberculosis.

“Seeing hope in people’s eyes for better, healthier lives encouraged me to participate in this project. By helping my community to be healthier, I am also protecting my family and myself,” Ms. Matrizaeva concluded.

“It is very pleasant to know that our work has been recognized, and I’m happy that our achievement will serve as an example worldwide.”

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About the UN Aral Sea Programme

The UN Aral Sea Programme works to improve the economic, food, health and environmental security of poor rural communities of Karakalpakstan. By employing top-down protection and bottom-up empowerment measures within the human security framework, the Programme aims to promote community level efforts in order to protect people from sudden economic downturns and natural disasters, while also increasing the population’s standards of living.

By blogging consultant James Brindley

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