03/11/2010, 00.00
CHECHNYA – RUSSIA
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TB is back in Grozny but doctors and facilities are in short supply

Chechnya has 325 registered TB sufferers for every 100,000 residents, but many other fail to report the disease fearing social marginalisation. In comparison, there are about ten cases per 100,000 in Europe. The slow pace of reconstruction and demining as well as poorly paid staff contribute to the problem.
Grozny (AsiaNews/Agencies) – After decades of decline, tuberculosis is making a comeback in various countries, especially in conflict zones like Chechnya. According to US-based NGO International Medical Corps (IMC), which has been working for the past ten year in the Russian republic, the disease has reached epidemic proportions.

"The 20 years that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union and the 15 years of war have brought tuberculosis back to the scene,” said Simon Rasin from IMC.

In Chechnya, there are 325 registered TB sufferers for every 100,000 residents. In comparison, Moscow has 77 cases per every 100,000 people; in European countries, the number drops to a dozen.

However, the real number could be much higher since not everyone reports the disease fearing the social stigma that comes with it.

Last year, TB killed as many as 139 people out of a population of just over 1 million. Quick action could save many lives, but Chechnya lacks almost everything in terms of medical facilities and staff.

The authorities are aware of the problem. The Chechen Health Ministry and the Akhmad Kadyrov foundation, a charity overseen by the republic's powerful president, Ramzan Kadyrov, have sponsored the construction of Grozny's tuberculosis dispensary. However, doctors say that with just 70 beds, the facility cannot cope with the outbreak.

Many have been pleading with authorities to reopen the capital's former tuberculosis hospital, a vast structure that was damaged and mined during the Chechen wars.

The Russian government earmarked more than US$ 9 million to rebuild the hospital two years ago as part of Grozny's vast reconstruction program, but work cannot start until the territory is demined, a painstaking chore that local authorities appear in no rush to perform.

This is not the only problem. Chechnya is sorely lacking in trained medical staff, and the poor security situation and low salaries have combined to deter foreign specialists from taking up jobs here.

Ignorance about the disease makes matters worse. TB is so contagious that patients must endure long periods of isolation. Many sufferers, too ashamed to seek medical help, prefer to hide the disease or opt for traditional remedies that experts say allow the disease to progress unchecked.

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