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December 22, 2003

KYRGYZSTAN: Focus on the problems of the blind

From: UN Regional Information Asia, Asia - Dec 22, 2003

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

BISHKEK, 22 Dec 2003 (IRIN) - Nineteen-year-old Julia Janvanchikova has studied at the Kyrgyz Russian Slavic University in the capital, Bishkek, majoring in English language teaching and interpreting.

"When I was 13, I lost the sight of one eye. In 2002, I had a brain injury, and after that totally lost my sight [cause: detachment of retina]. I had never thought it could ever happen with me," she told IRIN.

"I had a very deep psychological depression for one long year. Now I am unable to imagine myself going with a walking stick. Also I am afraid of being independent. Most of the time I spent at home. I talked with other invalids, they helped me," Janvanchikova added.

"Annually from 500 up to 600 people become blind to some degree," Kalyk Mambetakunov, the president of the Kyrgyz Society of the Blind and Deaf (KSBD), told IRIN in Bishkek. "There’s no special rehabilitation centre in Kyrgyzstan for them. We help them as best we can."

There are only two rehabilitation centres in the post-Soviet region, and both are in Russia, in Vololamsk and Biysk. Mambetakunov explained that during Soviet times, health care for the deaf and blind was centralised, and those who needed it were treated there. Now, the functions of those two centres had been taken over by KSBD headquarters, its subdivisions and its library, he said.


"I talk with a newly blind person directly, to persuade him that his life has not ended and that he must do something. Then I talk with his relatives and explain that they should not treat him as an invalid, or as too much of a special case, but realise that he is a human being who can do most things for himself," Mambetakunov said.

"We tell our own stories, talk about them and involve them in some activities. This is the psychological rehabilitation we provide," the head of Bishkek KSBD subdivision for the blind, Guljamal Asanova, told IRIN.

The director of library, Jumabay Ismailov, said: "We train the newly blind on ways to achieve self-sufficiency, space orientation and reading Braille. We also engage in psychological rehabilitation, which entails direct contact with those who have lost their sight, but on a voluntary basis. Since August 2003, I have rehabilitated two such cases, and now I am working with another."

As a diabetic, 11-year-old Yura Kashlachov is insulin-dependent, and lost his sight due to detachment of the retina brought about by his condition. He has not left his house for eight years. He was found by KSBD suffering from depression, brought about by his blindness. Subsequently, the KSBD librarians talked and worked with him. As a result, he regained his wish to live, has hopes again and plans for the future.

"Now I am working with a 37-year-old former military pilot," Taalaybek Azhikulov, who became blind as the result of an illness five years ago. In his case, the condition advanced gradually. At first he could not believe what was happening to him, but then he began to realise the inevitability of his condition. "We were unable to arrange for him to be trained as a masseur because the medical school's age limit for this type of training is 35," Ismailov told IRIN.

"Azhikulov does not want to be a burden to his family, but to do something socially useful as he did as a pilot. Unfortunately, there is no place for him, but we are still trying to find him something to help him overcome his problems. But what we really need for him is the help of an experienced psychologist," he added.


Wherever practically possible, people who go blind are trained for massage at a special branch of the medical academy. The academy's director, Bolot Aksamaev, told IRIN that the academy had started training blind people in massage skills two years ago, the course lasting two years. "The first graduation was conducted this year, with 16 persons qualified in massage. Now we have 10 first-year and nine second-year students. We have employed four of the graduates ourselves to work in state institutions. The others are engaged in private practice," he said.

"The main current problems of all blind people is unemployment and a miserly pension," Mambetakunov of KSBD said. "We have 11 enterprises where nearly 1,000 blind and deaf people worked, but these now stand idle because of the difficulties of marketing their products."

The government helps blind and deaf people by providing them with subsidised utility services and transport. Their average pension amounts to about US $20 a month. "But this is a miserable sum. Blind people need dispensary treatment twice a year, each of which costs nearly $8, not including meals and other expenses," Asanova told IRIN.


The only specialised library for blind is also threatened with closure. The only one of its kind in the country, it is housed in the basement of a house occupied by blind people. More than 9,000 of the library's clients, including between 80 and 100 students, could lose access to its services if steps to repair the premises are not taken.

"This is a unique place where we can read literature," the head of the Jakeev family told IRIN. "Our family consists of three members. All of us are blind. My wife and I work as masseurs, and our son is studying law at the Kyrgyz Russian Slavic University. It is necessary for him to read and prepare for classes. However, there is a shortage of specialised literature at the library.".

The library contains 38,000 volumes in Braille, each of an average length of 500 pages. The Bible alone comes to 25 volumes. Audio records help, so the librarians record best-selling books on tape. The library is financed from the KSBD's budget and employs four librarians. It also distributes reading materials by way of six mobile libraries.

"No repairs at the library have been carried out from the time it was established in 1971. Since then, its stock has grown to the extent that now there is no room for new acquisitions," Ismailov told IRIN.

The library's stock grows with the help of the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz Book Chamber. "The mayor offered us a room in a city suburb, but it is difficult to get there, particularly in the evening," Ismailov said. "It would be better if a sufficiently spacious room could be made available near the present KSBD library."


copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003