"What do you need to stay healthy and to lead a healthy life?" This was the question that ushered the SDC's activities into the Kyrgyz health sector. Swiss health experts arrived in the country with questions instead of ready-made cures, convinced that close cooperation with the population was the key to the sustainable success of their health project. In essence, the idea was not to impose on the population from above the course of action needed to foster good health, but rather to let every village itself determine the priorities of the regional health policy.
Rooted in the local village communities
Since 1999, the Swiss Red Cross has been commissioned with the implementation of this SDC project. In effect, under the guidance from especially trained family-medicine practitioners, the village inhabitants were requested to name the illnesses with which they most frequently had to cope, and to rank them in order of importance. The survey was conducted initially in the Naryn region. At the top of the list figured illnesses such as cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, Malta fever, influenza, abdominal disorders, dental problems, alcoholism, and excessive consumption of tobacco. As to the most crucial factors promoting good health, the inhabitants cited a healthy diet, the availability of clean drinking water, the promulgation of regulations on hygiene, and facilitated access to the principal medicines.
The proposals give way to concrete measures
To transform this theoretical data into specific actions, the village inhabitants elected delegates from their ranks to become members of health committees. In consultation with experts, these committees then formulated a plan of measures that were implemented step-by-step with the help of Swiss funds. For instance, the consumption of salt enriched with iodine was actively promoted, as was the cultivation of vegetables, preventive measures against Malta fever, improved treatment of abdominal disorders, and the reduction of cases of alcohol abuse. Indeed, the excessive consumption of alcohol is a gigantic problem, as was recently pointed out by the representatives of various health committees in an open letter addressed to parliamentary hopefuls. "One of the priorities of the health committees at present is to combat the consumption of alcohol in the villages. Alcohol endangers health, threatens the future of our children (…), and condemns the population to poverty."
The Project becomes an example to be followed
Thanks to a number of substantial improvements in the health situation in the villages, the Swiss project has become famous. Riding a wave of success, the new health model that had initially been limited to the Naryn and Talas regions, was extended to other parts of Kyrgyzstan. This expansion was made possible by the involvement of additional donors: the American government's Agency for International Development USAID and the Swedish International Development Agency in Delegated Cooperation Sida joined in. It was after the latter became involved in 2006 that the name of the project was changed from "Community Action for Health" to "Kyrgyz-Swiss-Swedish Health Project" (KYSS). Today some 2 million individuals are benefiting from this health-promotion programme.
Nor does the State remain on the Sidelines
The Kyrgyz State has recognized the significance of this programme and has included core elements of KYSS into its national health programme strategy. The project initiated by the SDC has triggered off major health system reform process, one which has set out to make a long-term and country-wide contribution to improving the health situation in Kyrgyzstan.