UN World Food Programme

Tajikistan: Food Puts TB Mother On Track To Recovery

Zebinisso Idibekova, 55, at the clinic where she receives daily medication and food. Copyright: WFP/Heather Hill

After falling ill with stage II tuberculosis, Zebinisso Idibekova's future looked bleak. She couldn't afford the medication and was growing weaker by the day. But a combination of nutritious food and free medication have brought her back from the edge -- and ensured her son stays in school.

KHOROG--Zebinisso Idibekova, 55, could easily have become a tuberculosis mortality statistic. She was first diagnosed for Tuberculosis, one of the leading causes of death in Tajikistan, in 2005, when she went to the small hospital in her home town of Vanj, coughing heavily and breathing with difficulty.

She got sicker and sicker and was finally transferred to the TB hospital in Khorog, the only city in Tajikistan’s mountain-ringed Gorno-Badakhshan region.

After two months, she was sent home and told to continue taking the pills prescribed under the DOTS programme (Directly Observed Treatment, Short Course). Patients who take their DOTS medication every day for six months have a nearly 100 percent chance of getting cured.

Sick again

But Zebinisso stopped taking the pills because she couldn’t afford them. What little money she had was for food and other household needs.

“At the time, I wasn’t even thinking about medicine,” she said after being readmitted to the hospital in Khorog with an even severer form of the disease.

She could barely breathe and had lost an alarming amount of weight. If her condition worsened, she could easily have died.

But Zebinisso was given a lifeline in the form of free anti-TB pills from the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis and nutritious food from WFP. As an out-patient, she gets a ration of fortified wheat flour, enriched vegetable oil, pulses and salt – but only if she takes the pills under the observation of medical personnel every day.

Her family also receives a food ration, which is a powerful incentive for her to stay with the DOTS programme to completion.

Determined to recover

Recalling her relief upon learning that she could get her food and medicine for free, she said: “I was so happy because all the time I was thinking about my son. He offered to drop out of school and go to work but I couldn’t let him do that. He should go to university and graduate and have a life better than me and his father.”

Zebinisso says she is determined to rid herself of TB. She, and thousands more like her, will get the help they need to do that through a new three-year WFP operation that provides food assistance to every registered DOTS patient in the country and their families.

Scheduled to begin in January 2011, the TB operation is the first of its kind in WFP and one greatly welcomed in a country that has one of the highest incidences of TB in the world.