Aboard the 21 hour train from Tashkent to Nukus, where the MSF program is located, the sweat poured off me as I sat alone in my own compartment in 40+ degrees heat wondering what lay ahead of me. There was no going back now. Destination: my first assignment with MSF, a program for drug-resistant tuberculosis and – the desert.
Leafing through the Uzbekistan guide book I saw fabulous pictures, but then I turned to the page about Nukus: “Nukus is a grim, spiritless city of bitter pleasures whose gridded avenues of socialism support a centreless town, only to peter out around fading fringes into an endless wasteland of cotton fields punctuated by the random, surreal exotica of wild camels loitering in neglected apartment blocks.”
Now, my first week in Uzbekistan is coming to an end. It was always clear the job I’d come for was going to be a challenge! Thankfully Sandy, the epidemiologist who I am replacing did the best week’s handover I could have asked for. Extremely organised, patient, kind and clever she talked me through the job, introducing me to the project, the staff, the hospitals, the challenges, and the data.
MSF have been working on Multi drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) since 2003 in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan, and at the end of this year, we are handing over the responsibility to the ministry of health, and continuing to expand into the surrounding regions. My particular challenge is to continue monitoring the expanding MDR programme while my main focus will be on analysis and publishing the data we have gathered over the years. It’s time for me to get cracking- there’s tons to do!