Top Diseases in Kazakhstan
Nestled between Russia, China and other regions of the former Soviet Union, lies the nation of Kazakhstan. As is the case in many other middle-income countries, ischemic heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death. However, cirrhosis of the liver has overtaken chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as one of the top diseases in Kazakhstan. Together, the top diseases in Kazakhstan claim the lives of approximately 85,000 individuals annually.

Ischemic Heart Disease

Often referred to as Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), Ischemic Heart Disease is a condition characterized by insufficient blood flow to the heart. CAD develops when plaque composed of cholesterol and other substances accumulates in blood vessels. As in much of the developed world, the increasing incidence of heart disease in Kazakhstan is correlated with increased body mass index (BMI). More than half the population is overweight. The most common symptom associated with ischemic heart disease is angina or chest pain. Eventually, CAD can lead to heart attacks, heart failure, or arrhythmia.

Cardiovascular Disease is associated with significant direct (e.g. medical) and indirect (e.g. lost productivity) costs. The good news is, there are simple but effective interventions that can reduce the burden of this disease. One study demonstrated a 460% return on investment for community-based initiatives that promoted better lifestyle choices, such as increased physical activity, smoking cessation and healthy eating.


Like ischemic heart disease, stroke is a condition with numerous modifiable risk factors. Most strokes occur when there is insufficient blood flow to the brain. About 20% of strokes are hemorrhagic (due to bleeding). Strokes can result in serious neurological damage and is a leading cause of long-term disability. Community empowerment and education initiatives can help the incidences and severity of strokes. The lifestyle modifications that mitigate the effects of coronary artery disease are also effective in reducing the risk of stroke. In Kazakhstan, sodium intake is one of the most obvious targets for intervention. The average Kazakh consumes over 6,000 mg of sodium daily or three times the maximum recommended by WHO. In addition, limiting alcohol consumption to one drink for women and two for men per day can help lower stroke risk.


Reducing alcoholism in Kazakhstan has proven difficult as evidenced by the increasing prevalence of Cirrhosis. Cirrhosis, or end-stage liver disease, is most commonly caused by hepatitis B or C and alcoholism. According to WHO, the average Kazakh over 15 years of age consumes 10.3 liters of pure alcohol, more than in any other Central Asian country. Since the harmful use of alcohol is also tied to socioeconomic development, organized efforts should be targeted toward this problem. Over time, the incidence of liver Cirrhosis would decrease. There would also be the immediate benefit of reduced motor vehicle accidents, due to intoxication.

In many parts of the world, the leading causes of death have shifted from being acute and communicable to being chronic and noncommunicable. Through medical innovations and effective public policy, those former causes of morbidity and mortality have been dramatically reduced. Sustained passion for social change could also help overcome health problems that now plague the modern world.

Rebecca Yu

Photo: Flickr

malnutrition in kazakhstan
Malnutrition in Kazakhstan? In the heart of Central Asia, a region known for issues with health, Kazakhstan stands as a possible success story in the well being of its people. With child malnutrition rates below five percent, lower than the Central Asian average and well below the rates for some of its neighbors, the Kazakh government and aid organizations working in the country have made improvements in malnutrition efforts worthy of praise.

Born in the post-Soviet world, Kazakhstan is still a relatively new state. Made up of ethnic Kazakhs as well as a large population of ethnic Russians, Kazakhstan is the largest country to come out of the USSR other than Russia itself. It dwarfs its neighbors of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, spanning across almost three million square miles of continent but remaining landlocked. It is the biggest economy in Central Asia and is currently going through an economic diversification process that the government hopes will stabilize and lengthen growth.

Almost all indicators of malnutrition have improved in Kazakhstan in the last decade. From 2004 to 2014, the prevalence of food inadequacy declined from 10.1 percent to 5.9 percent. The percent of children who are stunted declined from 17.5 percent in 2006 to 13.1 percent just four years later.

The prevalence of anaemia in children, which is characterized by fatigue and decreased work output, decreased from 35.4 percent in 2004 to 30 percent in 2011. However, the overall presence of undernourishment had almost no change from 2004 to 2007, leaving 800,000 people vulnerable to undernourishment.

Central Asia as a region has an ongoing battle with undernourishment and malnutrition. Common demarcations of this are anaemia, which is a decrease in the amount of red blood cells in the blood, iodine deficiency, iron deficiency and Vitamin A deficiency.

Kazakhstan preformed well in all of these categories. Iodine deficiency, which was a huge problem after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been almost completely eradicated in Kazakhstan by iodizing all salt consumed in the country. Anaemia levels are lower in the country than in most of its neighbors. Regional averages for iron deficiencies and vitamin A deficiencies hover around 50-60 percent for women and children.

While by no means in the clear with malnutrition, especially for children, Kazakhstan has continued to improve in most indicators. It is working towards a more stable, diversified economy that will hopefully keep food prices low and unchanging.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: CIA,  Knoema,  IRIN
Photo: Inter Press Service News Agency

Kazakhstan‘s rapidly growing economy has laid the groundwork for the introduction of several economic, social, and political reforms that have improved the quality of life and spurred the development of a strengthened system of education in Kazakhstan.

Under Article 30 of the 1995 Constitution, Kazakh citizens have the right to free secondary education as well as free higher education in state institutions on a competitive basis. The state has implemented several measures of education reform in recent years. Kazakhstan adopted an updated version of the Law on Education in 2007, with components focused on strengthening national regulation of education and improving upon the nation’s existing education system. One particularly significant component of the new law increases the years of compulsory education to 12. The law also improves upon existing vocational training structures and creates a three-stage model of higher graduate and post-graduate education.

Reform targeting education spending has also been introduced, with total expenditure on education jumping from 2.5 percent to 3 percent in 2006. This commendable improvement nevertheless remains one of the lowest figures of education spending in the CEE/CIS region. The Kazakh government has also indicated its commitment to establishing more educational institutions— it opened 80 new schools in 2008 and is scheduled to establish 245 more within the next five years.

Access to primary and secondary schools across different genders, regions, and income levels is impressively high in Kazakhstan. The total student enrollment rate within primary schools was 91 percent in 2005, with an attendance rate of 98 percent. These figures remain similarly high in secondary schools, with 2005 figures of 92 percent for net enrollment and 95 percent for net attendance. Kazakhstan boasts the lowest number of children lacking access to education levels than any other country in the region. However, Kazakhs benefit far less from access to early childhood education—a mere 33 percent of Kazakh children attend preschool, a disadvantage that leaves many children without regular health checks and immunizations while also making the task of identifying learning disabilities far more difficult.

Access to schooling for children with special learning needs continues to pose a daunting problem to education in Kazakhstan. Disabled children have yet to be fully incorporated into the public education system; a dire lack of resources coupled with few trained professionals in this particular field prevents such needs from being adequately addressed.

Girls enjoy equal access to primary and secondary schooling as do their male counterparts, with a disparity in attendance ratios comprising less than one percentage point. Similar parity applies to children of different regions and income groups, with only a small gap prevailing between students from the wealthiest and poorest income groups upon reaching secondary school.

Kazakhstan has succeeded in keeping a relatively low student-teacher ratio of about 11-to-1. However, several important problems relating to quality continue to pervade the structure of education in Kazakhstan. The country currently lacks a viable method with which to measure learning outcomes, an insufficient supply of teachers remains grossly overworked and underpaid, and the large shortage of schools serves as a persistent disadvantage. The national curriculum and instructional materials, largely remnants of the Soviet era, also need updating along with a reliable set of uniform standards, which must be developed in order to ensure accountability and equality from one school district to another.

– Shenel Ozisik

Sources: UNICEF, IBE
Photo: Flickr

While Sacha Baron Cohen may have put Kazakhstan on the map with his fictitious role as a journalist in the movie “Borat,” Kazakhstan today stands as a country that continues to face hurdles despite consistent economic growth over the past few decades.

A Central Asian country of nearly 18 million people, Kazakhstan is no stranger to economic uncertainties. Since gaining independence in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has experienced relatively steady economic growth, thanks in part to its expanding oil sector.

The country’s poverty rate declined by more than 50 percent between 1999 and 2004. Between 2004 and 2013, the nation’s GDP increased by more than 500 percent.

Nevertheless, nearly half of the country is considered to be in a low income class. Roughly 47 percent of the population maintains a monthly income of approximately $70.

Arguably most frustrating to many Kazakhstan citizens are the disparities in gross regional product (GRP.) Because some parts of the country are more resource-rich than others, inconsistencies in wealth have affected some Kazakhstanis more than others.

Even though the country has seen substantial economic growth in recent years, specifically in the oil, gas and minerals industries, employment levels in these industries have not matched the nation’s economic growth.

Following the turn of the century, much of the nation saw considerable gains in employment and labor productivity. Yet, the agricultural region of Kostanay and North Kazakhstan did not experience the same growth as others parts of the country. West Kazakhstan saw significant economic gains in the late 1990s following the introduction of an oil pipeline stretching from the Caspian Sea to China.Perhaps surprisingly, Kazakhstan’s oil-rich areas have also become the nation’s most impoverished.

The minimum income level below the subsistence minimum in Kazakhstan is $35 per month. Any amount below the minimum is considered as poverty. Between 1998 and 2003, the number of people living in poverty in the country fell from 5 million to 3 million.

According to a recent U.N. Development Programme report, unemployment and low income remain the primary causes of poverty in Kazakhstan.

Yet, it is hard to overlook the respectable economic gains the country has seen over the past two decades. Kazakhstan has made considerable headway in its attempts to cement its standing on the world stage. Last month, President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a new law to lift to visa restrictions, enact tax exemptions and help stabilize tax rates to interest foreign investment, especially with the United States and other Western powers. These moves, among others, will help the country in the long-term as it continues to make strides against poverty.

Ethan Safran

Sources: The World Bank, World Health Organization, CNBC, IRIN, USAID
Photo: Breitbart