Combating TB and COVID-19

Speeches Shim

Monday, February 22, 2021
Dr Panagul Dzhazybekova at the National TB Hospital in Almaty, Kazakhstan
Victor Magdeyev for USAID

USAID is leveraging American technology to support Kazakhstan’s fight against TB during the pandemic

Kazakhstan is among the 30 countries in the world with the highest burden of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). It is elusive and expensive to treat. USAID’s focus has therefore been on introducing new, more effective drugs, shorter treatment regimes, and shortening diagnosis to treatment time.

Originally from Karaganda, Dr. Panagul Dzhazybekova has spent the past three decades in Almaty, Kazakhstan as a tuberculosis (TB) specialist. She is the Head of the Department for Monitoring and Evaluation at the National Center for Phthisiopulmonology in Almaty. Dr. Panagul is also a proud wife, mother, and grandmother, who unwinds by spending quality time with her family.

When news of COVID-19 spread to Kazakhstan, Dr. Panagul was asked by relatives and friends if the virus was a hoax. However, once it hit Kazakhstan, she was certain the pandemic was very real. “There was no doubt about it. We transformed our center into an infectious disease treatment hospital and started treating COVID patients right away,” says Dr. Panagul.

The Impact of COVID on TB

Due to the lockdown, there was a drop in TB cases. “In 2020, we saw a 20 percent decrease in TB cases. This is partially because during the lockdown, patients with TB were isolated at home and could not visit medical institutions. Also, TB patients, like everyone, were wearing masks and learned to cough into their elbows, reducing transmission,” says Dr. Panagul. “However, we suspect we will see an uptick this year because there could have been undiagnosed cases from 2020.”

Leveraging digital technology, TB specialists like Dr. Panagul switched to providing consultations online, speaking to patients over the phone, Zoom, and WhatsApp.

In 2018, through the U.S.-supported Global TB Fund, many TB patients received smartphones to stay in touch with their TB treatment service providers. In 2020, the Government of Kazakhstan, rolled out the smartphones program to all TB patients across the country.

Repurposing GeneXpert Machines to Test for COVID-19

In 2012, USAID first introduced GeneXpert machines that rapidly test for TB drug resistance. GeneXpert machines have brought down testing time from what used to be months to a mere two hours. Since 2018, this technology has been adopted widely across Kazakhstan.

“Starting treatment immediately, hugely influences treatment outcomes. GeneXpert has been a TB game changer,” says Dr. Panagul.

In 2020, USAID provided the Government of Kazakhstan with new GeneXpert cartridges that can diagnose SARS-CoV-2 (COVID). “We have been able to conveniently conduct COVID tests using the new cartridge for our staff and patients,” says Dr. Panagul.

“The pandemic has been hard on everyone but I’m hopeful about the future. I know that together we can beat both COVID and TB,” says an optimistic Dr. Panagul.

USAID’s assistance has enhanced TB case finding, diagnostics, and treatment, and resulted in a shift to patient-centered care, engaging communities, and reducing the stigma associated with contracting TB.

ABOUT THIS STORY

For more than 20 years, USAID has been a global leader in the fight against TB. In Central Asia, USAID introduced state-of-the-art technology that reduces the diagnosis time for drug-resistant tuberculosis to just a few hours, helping get people onto the right life-saving treatment more quickly. USAID is working with drug manufacturers in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to improve the quality of TB medicines available locally and to improve access to life-saving medications. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, USAID has continued to promote prevention strategies, improve patient-centric care, strengthen service delivery, and provide new diagnostics and drugs in the fight against TB. USAID is expanding the availability of new multidrug-resistant tuberculosis drugs and regimens that save lives.

Last updated: April 08, 2021

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