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Kazakhstan professor here to study U.S. public health programs

Imagine learning, at the age of 35, that your nation has”unexpectedly”a new government and a new economy. Neither you nor your fellow citizens will have purchasing power for two weeks, while your new government creates new money. Under this new government, you will be required, for the first time ever, to purchase health insurance, start a pension fund, and pay for your own higher education. And that’s just the beginning a gradual process that involves tremendous change.

It was not easy, but Professor Saulet Nurtayeva lived through this, and more, when Kazakhstan became independent from the U.S.S.R. in 1991.

Nurtayeva, an assistant professor in the Department of Oncology and Radiology at West Kazakhstan Medical School, is visiting the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University this semester. She is here as a guest of the U.S. Department of State under the Junior Faculty Development Program, which encourages exchange of faculty between countries.

‘Before Kazakhstan’s independence from the U.S.S.R., we had no schools for public health,” said Nurtyeva. ‘They were all schools of medicine. They educated doctors to treat our diseases, but the population was not worried about prevention. There was no need to worry, because treatment was readily available and cost was covered by the government.”

Independence changed everything for Nurtayeva, her parents, and her brothers. With a parliamentary government, multiple political parties, a president, and a prime minister, the Kazakhs also learned the price of freedom: not only did they need a new economy, they needed new systems for education and for medical care.

With independence came medical insurance and an understanding that to keep costs down, prevention is important. The need for public health education for the population became clear, especially in the area of tobacco use. In Kazakhstan, life expectancy for women is 70 years, but for men it is only 61 years, a circumstance tied in part to the fact that men smoke tobacco and women don’t.

‘In the U.S., public health education has been able to reduce tobacco use and lung cancer,” said Nurtayeva. ‘We’d like to be able to do that in Kazakhstan, and do it quickly. I want to learn the public health programs used here and apply them in my country.”

Nurtayeva is especially pleased to be at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health because of its emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention in rural areas.
She comes from west Kazakhstan, an area close to Russia with a population density similar to the rural areas of Georgia. She is also excited to work with the Georgia Cancer Coalition and learn how to help her people benefit from cancer screenings and cancer education.

Although she is not teaching a regular schedule, Nurtayeva will be making presentations on campus, attending epidemiology and environmental health classes, and observing public health researchers to learn their methods. She arrived Jan. 8 and will be at Georgia Southern until the semester ends.

‘I am grateful to be part of this faculty exchange experience,” she said. ‘What I learn here will help me find ways to bring better health to the people of Kazakhstan.”

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