Tuberculosis (TB) threatens thousands of lives in Kazakhstan and every day Red Crescent workers are providing vital support to people facing discrimination.
In the city of Karaganda, the stigma of TB has left Aigherim and her family living in fear of eviction by their landlord.
Although it is a curable disease, TB kills three people every minute (Stop TB). People who lack the resources to live a healthy life are most at risk, which is why it is often called a ‘disease of poverty’.
Aigherim, 23, her husband, their three children, her parents, her sister Aisulu, and Aisulu’s newborn baby all live in one apartment. Money is short, their living conditions poor and TB is plaguing their lives.
“My mother caught TB from my grandfather, who she nursed till he passed away,” Aigherhim says. “When I found out I also had it, I began crying. My sister was pregnant when she found out she had it, but her partner still left her.”
Dealing with stigma
Like the common cold, TB primarily infects lungs and spreads via droplets in the air released during coughing and sneezing. This contagious element of the disease, along with lack of information on how to prevent and treat it, means those living with TB often struggle in the face of huge discrimination.
The Kazakhstan Red Crescent, supported by the British Red Cross, is working hard to educate people about the disease. It also provides a lifeline to people like Aigherim and her family.
Aigherim says: “The Red Crescent support is very important, but we prefer to go to their office rather than have home visits. We’re frightened the landlord will kick us out if he finds out about our TB status. It happened once before, in the middle of the night, with the kids.”
Her husband, Syrym, adds: “It was a real ordeal for us to find another apartment.”
Multi-drug resistant TB
In recent years, central Asia has become a global hot spot for multi-drug resistant TB, which Aigherim, her mother and sister all have. TB is curable with a course of drugs that lasts several months, but the drugs have extreme side effects. If people don’t understand the importance of completing the treatment and stop early, it increases the chance of re-infection. In such cases, strains of TB can become resistant to the drugs used to treat it.
Aigherim’s three children have all had TB as well. They were cured after a stay in hospital, however now they’ve returned to the poor living conditions in the overcrowded family apartment, there is a risk they will get re-infected.
Aiman Shaimerdenova, Red Crescent project co-ordinator, says: “We are doing all we can to help. We encourage them to stick to their TB treatment, talk to them about how to keep healthy and provide food packages every three months.”
Read more about our work in Kazakhstan
This programme has been supported with financial assistance from the European Union. The contents of this blog post are the sole responsibility of the British Red Cross and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.