Practice, Professionalism, and Perseverance: Setting a New Standard for Healthcare in Kazakhstan

By Victoria Saadat

In a previous post, I introduced Kazakhstan’s initial wave of progress in developing its healthcare system over the past decade. From government-directed programs to international research partnerships, the nation’s efforts have been commendable. In the last few years, there have been several new fronts, on which Kazakhstan has been working to rise up to international standards in healthcare and access to medical services.

On February 11, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) opened a center for primary healthcare in Almaty, thereby increasing the organization’s presence in Central Asia. This occasion will begin to solidify the intentions between Kazakhstan and the WHO to work together to revitalize and improve primary healthcare practice and policy in Kazakhstan and surrounding countries. In her speech presented at the center’s opening, Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, cited the need for “services that are proactive, rather than reactive, and continuous and comprehensive, rather than episodic and disease-specific; and services built on lasting patient–provider relationships, rather than incident- and provider-led care.” In order to accomplish this and related goals, multiple relationships need to be fostered: those between the government and citizens, those between providers and patients, and those between healthcare providers themselves. Over the past three years, Kazakhstan has initiated reforms and programs towards strengthening these very relationships.

In his state-of-the-nation address in 2012, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced the “Kazakhstan Strategy 2050.” The strategy calls for nationwide reform in economic, political, and social sectors towards becoming one of the top 30 economies by 2050. But how does the Strategy aim to improve healthcare in Kazakhstan?

First, it calls for the development of a state program called “Salamatty Kazakhstan,” which means “Healthy Kazakhstan” and is dedicated to improving the overall health of Kazakhstan’s citizens. For example, Salamatty Kazakhstan has proportioned a larger fraction of the state budget towards supporting health programs in many smaller cities, including Kyzylorda and Kostanay, in the south and north of Kazakhstan, respectively. Additionally, nationwide programs geared towards increasing awareness among healthcare providers of tuberculosis (TB) treatment have been put in place. Training sessions, seminars, and other educational and professional supplements play key roles in achieving awareness. Second, Salamatty Kazakhstan recently completed the construction of TB clinics, hospitals, and general medical clinics specifically in rural areas, such as Semei and Oskemen. One challenge that remains is reducing the deficit of specialists and primary care physicians in rural areas of Kazakhstan. Telemedicine has emerged as an option for doctors to live in the larger cities and communicate with patients in isolated, rural areas. While efforts are underway to increase medical care in rural areas, a couple advances have already been made to strengthen networking and other professional aspects of healthcare providers in Kazakhstan. One of these, although still in its nascent stages, is a physician social-networking site called “E-dariger” which is Kazakh for “E-doctor”. Launched in 2013, the website allows physicians working in Kazakhstan to create their own profiles and connect with other physicians, send messages, as well as communicate on a forum. Sites like this are especially useful because they bring otherwise disconnected health professionals together and cultivate a sense of support and community.

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Journals written specifically for physicians have become increasingly popular and accessible in Kazakhstan’s health sector. Like E-dariger, they encourage collaboration and sharing of medical experiences. Such journals, including the most prominent, “Glavnyi Vrach”  or “Lead Doctor”, provide quality information that keeps doctors updated on the latest medical practice standards, research, and tips from the region’s medical community. One specific way, in which these journals are making an impact in Kazakhstan is by helping doctors appreciate the value of preventive healthcare practices, such as lifestyle, exercise, and diet adjustments towards encouraging healthy living. The aim is for Kazakhstan’s healthcare professionals to gradually work towards emphasizing the benefits of encouraging preventive healthcare rather than solely relying on acute reactions to disease. One particular example of increased medical professionalism in Kazakhstan is the recent efforts to improve transparency in the healthcare sector. As profiled in the March/April 2014 issue of MedTech, a Kazakh healthcare magazine, the heads of health department throughout Kazakhstan have been meeting since 2011 to protect the rights of patients and to increase accountability in physician education and licensure. Since 2013, qualification exams for physicians seeking licensure have been administered and awarded through the government’s “E-Portal” website, thereby passing one further level of screening. This and other changes to the physician licensing process will help foster a system of accountable and quality-assured healthcare in Kazakhstan. The most recent advancement in healthcare standards and patient-centered care has been the opening of HealthCity, a network of medical and diagnostic clinics in Almaty. Patients will not only have access to a diagnostic center that meet international standards of practice and technology, but also to medical clinics located in the largest business center and shopping mall in Almaty, as well as in several residential complexes throughout the city. The idea of the standardized and interconnected health network was formulated by Dr. Almaz Sharman, and is intended to be a leap towards providing Kazakhstan with healthcare that not only meets international standards, but is also accessible and regulated.

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