Tackling TB in Kyrgyzstan’s prisons

Mar 24, 2017

“If I stop the treatment, the disease will return and I may die like my brother did”- Aziz, 40. Credits @UNDP

Aziz (40) has reason to be thankful on World TB Day. Just two years ago he was being carried by his cell-mates to the prison doctor, so ill he could barely stand.

“At the time I thought my poor health was because of my drug use. I didn’t understand it was due to tuberculosis,” he said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), TB was one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide in 2015. Although Aziz did not realize it, he was at high risk of contracting the disease having looked after a family member with TB.

“My brother died from TB in 2009, and I was caring for him,” explained Aziz.

The situation was further exacerbated by Aziz’s incarceration, as the level of TB in prisons is reported to be up to 100 times higher than that of the civilian population. This is due to issues such as overcrowding and poor ventilation, which create a breeding ground for easy transmission of the air-borne disease.

Having been referred to the prison’s specialised TB hospital, Aziz was swiftly diagnosed with multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). Kyrgyzstan is among the 30 high multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB burden countries in the world, creating significant challenges for the effective diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Thankfully for Aziz, doctors at the prison TB hospital were able to act swiftly and he began treatment immediately. The hospital is one of several supported by UNDP’s partnership with the Global Fund as part of a targeted effort to reach those at higher risk. In coordination with the Government, the partnership provides prison hospitals with medicines and laboratory supplies. In addition to medicines to treat TB and HIV, this also includes methadone to help prisoners like Aziz who are trying to overcome drug addiction.

“I started taking my TB treatment regularly and after a while I started feeling better. I didn’t stop the treatment even when I encountered the side effects of the medicines. In my case the medicines affected my hearing” said Aziz.

After completing his sentence in February 2017, on just his second day after release, Aziz went to the civilian TB centre in Bishkek to ensure continuity of his treatment.

He now takes pills every day under the supervision of the nurse and takes monthly tests to make sure the treatment is working effectively. To help encourage and support patients to adhere to treatment, UNDP and the Global Fund are also providing financial support to cover transportation fees to and from medical facilities.

This support has been vital for Aziz and with the news that his treatment is working, he is committed to beating TB and rebuilding his life.

“I strictly follow all the recommendations of the doctors and I don’t miss doses because I remember how severe my condition was at the very beginning” he said.

Having recently found a new job, Aziz visits the TB centre for treatment early in the morning before work.

“I believe that it is because of the treatment that I am still alive. I also know if I stop the treatment, the disease will return and I may die like my brother did” he said.

In 2015, an estimated 10.4 million people fell ill with TB globally. UNDP and Global Fund supported programmes have successfully treated 866,000 TB cases, including 17,700 cases of MDR-TB, meaning thousands of people like Aziz now have the chance to continue to work and live a full and productive life.