She Listened to Her Own Good Advice

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, September 2, 2020
Zhaniya at the Red Crescent of Kazakhstan office in Almaty, Kazakhstan

A Kazakhstan volunteer’s firsthand account of surviving COVID-19

Last year, 25-year-old Zhaniya Aldekeyeva, completed a doctoral degree in medicine. Not one to stop there, she then enrolled at Nazarbayev University to pursue a master’s in public health. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she hasn’t started classes yet. But there was work to do so she connected with her fellow Red Crescent of Kazakhstan volunteers to help prevent the virus’ spread.

Then she got COVID-19.

“I started volunteering with the Red Crescent last year, when I was a medic at the Almaty marathon. I enjoy volunteering because it’s always fun. I meet lots of new and interesting people through it,” Zhaniya says.

Before she contracted the illness and for the past few months, Zhaniya has been raising awareness about COVID-19 through the Red Crescent’s COVID-19 programs supported by USAID. 

“I’ve been calling private clinics to ask if they will let us leave our informational leaflets on COVID-19 at their facilities, creating and posting content on social media, and going to gas stations and cafes across the city, speaking to owners and workers about staying safe and sharing our informational materials with customers,” Zhaniya explained. 

USAID supports risk communication, community engagement, and health and hygiene promotion in Kazakhstan. In addition, through USAID’s support, Red Crescent trains trainers in each of Kazakhstan’s 16 oblasts [provinces] on COVID-19 prevention messaging, including how to cooperate with local authorities and organizations and how to engage volunteers on COVID-19.

Zhaniya is one of 824 Red Crescent volunteers in Kazakhstan fighting against the virus in the country. To date, the USAID-funded awareness campaign has reached nearly one million people through a mix of in-person and online outreach.

For Zhaniya, the fight against the pandemic feels personal. “About a month ago, I contracted COVID-19. It was very unexpected. I probably got it from my dance partner who got sick a couple of days before me.” 

In late June, the Government of Kazakhstan briefly lifted the lockdown. Restaurants, malls, bars, gyms, and other indoor facilities were reopened for two weeks. It was during this time that Zhaniya attended a dance class in an indoor space in close proximity with about 10 people. 

“I have seasonal allergies, so when I first had sniffles and a runny nose, I wrote it off as allergies. I also had a temperature, but it wasn’t very high, just 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) so I didn’t think too much of it. Unfortunately, three days later, I lost my sense of smell,” says Zhaniya. That’s when she realized that it was almost certainly COVID-19. 

While she tried to get tested to get a definitive diagnosis, she knew her biggest priority was to not get others sick. The drive-through clinic she visited to get tested had run out of reagents so she couldn’t get tested right away. Nevertheless, she self-quarantined at home, and since she lives with her elderly grandmother, she wore a mask and a face-shield when she left her room.

“As a volunteer for the Red Crescent, I knew exactly what to do to avoid spreading the virus. I knew what precautions to take and I followed all the guidance printed in the leaflets we have been distributing,” says Zhaniya.

Two weeks later, she went to a local hospital to get tested, feeling confident she would test negative because she felt completely fine. But her test was positive. Zhaniya self-quarantined for an additional two weeks. She continued volunteering for the Red Crescent calling clinics, translating reports, and anything else she could do to help virtually. 

“I’m grateful that I successfully protected my grandmother from contracting the virus from me. If only my dance class had been outdoors or had the lockdown not been lifted for those two weeks, perhaps I wouldn’t have got it,” she says pensively. 

Zhaniya tested for COVID-19 again nearly a month after contracting the virus and finally tested negative. “It took me, a healthy, young person with no preexisting conditions, an entire month to recover for COVID-19.” 

Through the USAID-funded awareness campaign, Zhaniya continues to raise awareness on ways to stay safe from COVID-19, “Stay at home as much as possible. When you do go out, make sure you wear a mask. Avoid hugging and kissing friends when you meet. Definitely avoid crowding in closed spaces with lots of people. I know I probably wouldn’t have contracted COVID-19 had I stayed at home.”

USAID has been the international leader in promoting a healthier Central Asia for the past 28 years. To respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has provided life-saving equipment, laboratory and medical supplies, and technical assistance to the Government of Kazakhstan.

About the author: Hazel Correa is the senior regional development outreach and communications coordinator for USAID’s mission in Central Asia. 

Last updated: October 22, 2020

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