Tajikistan emphasizes safe food, drinking water, polio vaccination for better health

WHO/Tahmina Alimamedova

Tajikistan has a population of 8.1 million, with an average life expectancy of 68 years. The country’s health policies of the last 12 years have succeeded in increasing lifespan, reducing the prevalence rate of tuberculosis, decreasing maternal and child mortality, raising standards of sanitation, and improving access to safe food, and drinking water.

“The government of Tajikistan takes an active stance in tackling those issues and enacts policies against communicable and noncommunicable diseases. WHO supports the government in those initiatives and assists it in implementing policies aimed at reducing the incidence of disease and promoting healthier lifestyles,” says Tahmina Alimamedova, Public Relations Assistant at the WHO Country Office in Tajikistan.

Safe drinking water

In 2011 only 57.6% of the population of Tajikistan had access to safe drinking water sources such as water pipes, wells, and protected springs. Despite the abundant water resources in the country, the drinking water supply system in rural areas remains underdeveloped. Given that almost 72% of Tajikistan’s population lives in rural areas, addressing this disparity is a major task that will play a significant role in the country’s development.

The WHO Water Safety Plan (WSP) is one of the main WHO guidelines on managing drinking water quality and sanitation. The Government of Tajikistan has adopted the WSP to be carried out between 2008 and 2020. Thus far, WSP has already been successfully implemented in the pilot regions of Hamadani and Pendjikent by WHO and the Tajikistan Ministry of Health, together with the support of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).

In Hamadani, as part of the WSP initiative, fences have been built around water sources, thus limiting access for animals. Additionally, a new water storage tank that is close to the village and distribution pipes have been installed.  An information poster on hygiene and water collecting has also been developed to educate local citizens. As a result, both the time and distance for collecting water have been reduced for 40 families, the amount of drinking water available has increased, and its quality has improved.  

In Pendjikent, local residents are working together with WHO and government officials to implement the WSP.  They understand the importance of these measures and are helping to improve water quality and supply in outdoor wells. Officials from the local sanitary and epidemiological station also participate in project staff meetings, contributing scientific research and expertise. Surayo Emonkulova, a housewife from the Navobod village, Pendjikent region, shared her opinion of the work that has already been done: “I want to thank the participants of this programme. Now I have enough water for cooking and other domestic chores. Before this plan came into effect, life was much harder. I’ll make sure to continue helping in the development of safe water systems.”

Prevention of foodborne botulism

Botulism, which is the result of consuming food containing toxins, is a serious and potentially fatal disease that targets the nervous system. The Tajikistan Ministry of Health has made a series of policies within the framework of the WHO food safety programme that are aimed at foodborne botulism prevention. The ministry hopes to reduce the prevalence of the disease in the country through these efforts.

Hadicha Boymatova, an expert in nutrition and food safety in WHO Country Office in Tajikistan, says, “The WHO team worked closely with the State Sanitary and Epidemiological Surveillance Service (SSESS). Information booklets and posters have been made in Tajik, Russian and English. Also, in 2012 WHO provided technical and financial support in organizing and conducting a series of workshops on foodborne botulism prevention and monitoring.”

This initiative has led to increased awareness among the population: as a result, timely reporting and registration of botulism outbreaks have increased. This data indicates that most of the cases are the result of improper practices of home canning and food storage. In Tajikistan homemade foods, such as vegetables, mushrooms and homemade meat products, were the main sources of infection.

National poliomyelitis immunization campaign

In accordance with WHO guidelines, the Ministry of Health of Tajikistan decided to conduct additional immunization using oral polio vaccine for children under 5 years of age in 2013. In early 2014, 2.4 million doses of oral polio vaccine were acquired with the support of the KfW Development Bank of Germany to carry out the campaign on a national scale. The WHO Country Office in Tajikistan also provided technical and financial support. Between February and May of 2014, two successful rounds of vaccinations were administered.

Both throughout the campaign and after its conclusion, measures were taken to increase social mobilization and to enhance public participation. Stationary and mobile teams were used to reach those living in remote areas. According to WHO consultant in Tajikistan Dr Stephen Chaco, these measures were crucial to the success of the campaign. “Documentaries were being broadcast by mass media on a regular basis and information booklets were being distributed amongst the population. Medical centres had posters displayed and educational activities were being conducted among health care workers. As a result, both the first and second rounds of immunization saw high coverage of 98.7% and 98.6%”.