The Amazing Reinvention of an Uzbek TB Patient
Shavkat Tursunbayev spends his days scouring abandoned buildings, construction sites and the streets of Karshi in southeastern Uzbekistan, looking for people who may have been infected with tuberculosis (TB).
He’s not a doctor or a traditional health worker, but a former convict whose own remarkable turnaround story and recovery from TB, a highly infectious but curable disease, was only possible with the help of the USAID TB Control Program, in which Project HOPE is a key partner.
Now he’s determined to help others follow his own path back to health and a new life.
Like many people in Uzbekistan and around the world, Tursunbayev has battled TB. After an initial infection 10 years ago, he was re-infected while serving a prison sentence. Overcrowding and a lack of awareness about how TB infection is transmitted make inmates particularly vulnerable. And because many former inmates distrust doctors and officials, they fear getting tested and seeking treatment.
In 2016, as he was still undergoing treatment for TB, which is free in Uzbekistan, Tursunbayev received support from a multidisciplinary team of health providers and outreach counselors established by USAID at a regional TB clinic in Karshi. To improve access to TB care, these teams provide comprehensive assistance, particularly to those who are most vulnerable to the disease: women, children, migrants and former inmates. Outreach counselors taught Tursunbayev the importance of following and completing his TB treatment and gave him the emotional support he needed to get better. Project HOPE works with partners like USAID to help Uzbekistan reduce the country’s TB burden and prevent the emergence and spread of multi-drug resistant forms through prevention, diagnosis and treatment for all, including those who are most vulnerable to TB.
With his health restored, Tursunbayev decided to help those who were struggling as he once had. He joined the multidisciplinary team that had supported him during his illness, first as a volunteer and later, after receiving training from USAID, as a staff member responsible for outreach among one of the country’s most vulnerable populations that he knew well: former prison inmates.
When he finds potential patients on his daily rounds, Tursunbayev encourages them to get tested and seek treatment. Among them are people who began TB treatment but then discontinued. They now suffer from much more dangerous drug-resistant TB.
Understanding their challenges better than almost anyone else, Tursunbayev knows that many of his clients lack stable employment, a permanent home, or connections to their families. They have personal and social needs that go beyond medical treatment. His experience in prison and his compassionate, non-judgmental approach makes Tursunbayev the perfect person to show these clients that health is their greatest asset and something they must protect.
“People come to trust me very quickly and agree to go to the TB clinic for testing. I know how to talk to my clients and make them feel safe.”
“People come to trust me very quickly and agree to go to the TB clinic for testing,” says Tursunbayev. “I know how to talk to my clients and make them feel safe.” As a peer, he is able to forge strong connections that others can’t. “I love my work! Outreach is for me. If I can do some good and help people, I know my life is not for naught,” he reflects.
In the year since joining the team, Tursunbayev has become a highly respected outreach counselor, valued equally by his teammates, his community, and the people he helps. His recent marriage and the upcoming birth of a child have been particularly encouraging for his clients. Through him, they see that TB can be cured and, like Tursunbayev, they can go on to lead lives full of purpose and fulfillment.
Since the start of the USAID TB Control Program in 2015, counselors like Tursunbayev have been working in four regions of Uzbekistan as part of multidisciplinary teams established by USAID and its national partners. The program has provided patient-centered outreach and support to nearly 28,000 individuals vulnerable to TB, with 148 patients enrolled in TB treatment and on the road to full recovery.