Half of Kyrgyzstan’s population is vaccinated. The government works with volunteers who are raising awareness about coronavirus infection, its prevention and the need for vaccination.
Kazan-Kuigan is a small village more than a three-hour drive away from Bishkek, the country's capital. The village is home to more than 200 families who mainly support themselves by raising livestock.
The students Adylkhan Esengulov,13, and Akbermet Ruslan, 15, are doing researches. Akylai Almazbekova, the center's coordinator, is giving them advice.
Two teenagers cross the street and head to the community multimedia center at the village school. "We want to write an article about the connection between the coronavirus and traditional medicine," says 15-year-old Akbermet Ruslan. "For instance, why do people shake juniper smoke in their houses to get rid of the virus? The Kyrgyz people have been using herbs to kill viruses for centuries. Is there a scientific explanation for this?”
Last year, the center joined the non-profit-organization “Association of Community Media” that has brought together 25 community media outlets in Kyrgyzstan. The goal is to inform residents about the threat of COVID-19 and that vaccinations can help prevent serious illness and potentially save lives. "The Association of Community Media now has a special page on www.covid.kyrgyzmedia.kg", says Akylai Almazbekova, the center's coordinator. She explains: "Everybody can read what we publish there. When we joined the organization, we immediately started publishing anti-covid-information. We worked closely with village doctors and nurses to make sure our information was correct.
Citizen media and medical professionals together against disinformation
“Since the pandemic, we’ve needed volunteers from local authorities and medical workers”, says Almazbekova. "The website of “Association of Community Media” provides information about the coronavirus in the languages that people in remote villages like ours understand.” The focus is on informing children and teachers about how they can protect themselves from Covid-19, how to wear a mask and how often to change it. The website also points to fake information about the vaccinations and how to identify it.
Kazan-Kuigan's Family Medicine Center is responsible for local public health. A doctor and four nurses work in this polyclinic that has been newly renovated and has a daytime hospital and a room for young mothers. One of the nurses, Jyldyz Isaeva, has been trained to give vaccinations; the vials are stored in a special clinic refrigerator. "People are understanding that it's important to get vaccinated,” says her colleague, Guljan Akmatova. "Last year everyone was panicking. But today, for example, two people came in to get their shot. They'd already had their first one but forgot to get a second, so we called them by phone to remind them." She also has help from schoolteachers, local government officials and the multimedia center volunteers in fighting the coronavirus. Those were the first to get vaccinated and serve as role models, and also help distribute informational leaflets.
Be a role model and provide reliable information
Gulnara Baizakova, 36, runs one of the few shops in the village. Her husband had worked in a brick factory before the pandemic and now raises livestock. Both feel the financial impact of the pandemic. "Our store was closed during the lock down," says Gulnara, "and the brick factory still is. It’s been a really hard time. We have five children and have been left without any money.” She initially hesitated to get the vaccination but says the volunteers explained everything so well that she decided to go ahead.
The village's elderly and residents with existing health problems have had to be especially careful since the pandemic. But despite volunteers' efforts to improve communication and encourage vaccinations, some villagers still refuse.
Like the Babayev family: Kubanych Babayev is 41 years old, and with his high blood pressure and his wife's pregnancy, they decided not to get vaccinated. That has put a serious health risk on her 80-year-old father who had a stroke prior to the pandemic.
"I have three sons," says Kubanych, "and the youngest one was born three days ago.” The family gets most of their information from the Internet, he says. "We don't let many people into our house, and we always use sanitary measures. But the most important thing is not to panic. And we aim to get vaccinated once my and my wife's health allows," he adds.
According to Johns Hopkins University 199,000 people in Kyrgyzstan have contracted the coronavirus and 2,900 have died. Kazan-Kuigan has a population of 1,200 but only 420 have so far been vaccinated. Last year, two villagers died from COVID-19 and dozens suffered serious complications.
This project is part of the global initiative "Transparency and media freedom - Crisis resilience in the pandemic" of DW Akademie and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).