Meeting Dilzada and Aiperi at Kyrgyzstan’s National Centre for Phthisiology offered Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, a rare opportunity during the pandemic to speak with patients directly.
The pair were diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) 6 weeks ago and first met following their diagnoses – becoming close friends in the process. Speaking to Dr Kluge, they explained that they are receiving proper care, but the side effects of the medication are challenging. The Regional Director thanked both patients for the discussion, and emphasized the importance of following and completing the treatment regimen prescribed.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a threat, health systems have in some cases been forced to make difficult choices with regards to longer-term health threats. But World TB Day offers a potent reminder that during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, health systems and governments will face a monumental task in providing care for patients with existing conditions.
Fortunately, care was provided to both Dilzada and Aiperi, who are on the road to recovery. However, across the WHO European Region fewer TB cases have been reported, suggesting that many cases have not been detected, including those with drug-resistant forms. This twin threat of COVID-19 and TB, makes for a troubling long-term picture, and a severe impact on the goal of eliminating TB by 2030.
Delivering care to communities
During the visit to Kyrgyzstan, Dr Kluge was also introduced to a range of innovative solutions which ensured that essential health services have been maintained while also providing catch-up services.
For TB, digital health has been identified as one solution – providing teleconsultations to aid patients in taking their medication and protecting vulnerable patients from potentially becoming infected with COVID-19.
Teleconsultations – and in urgent cases home visits – with health professionals, were utilized to provide care even during a surge in cases of COVID-19. More recently, mobile immunization teams have been deployed direct to communities to provide catch-up services for people who may have missed routine vaccination schedules. This delivery of care is vital to protect health during the pandemic and provide strong foundations for recovery in the years to come.
Digital health and immunization are 2 of the key areas of work for WHO/Europe in the coming years – as specified in the European Programme of Work 2020–2025 – “United Action For Better Health in Europe”.
Meeting with decision-makers
Speaking with the Minister of Health, Dr Alymkadyr Beishenaliev, Dr Kluge discussed strengthening health systems yet further. Both Dr Kluge and Dr Beishenaliev spoke of the importance of remaining vigilant throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the need to strengthen health systems following the pandemic.
During a meeting with the Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, Dr Kluge discussed the need to place health at the top of the political agenda – an issue already noted by the President – including issues related to primary health care, emergency care and financing of the health-care system.