Kazakhstan's declaration of independence from Russia in 1991 had a disastrous effect on its public healthcare. In the 1980s, Kazakhstan was able to deliver at least basic care without charge even to very remote communities. By 1993, however, Kazakhstan rated below average or lower among the former Soviet republics in medical services, sanitation, medical research and development, and pharmaceutical supplies.
Recently, faculty in the Columbia University School of Social Work (CUSSW) began helping the Kazakhs turn their situation around. According to CUSSW dean Jeanette Takamura, the school's Kazakhstan initiative is the latest in a series of efforts it has made over the past five years to assist with the "provision of technical assistance in countries previously dependent upon the Soviet socialist system." She added that work thus far has focused on research, education and primary care provision for HIV/AIDS patients.
Most recently, CUSSW has collaborated with the American International Health Alliance to establish Kazakhstan's first social work training center and develop a culturally appropriate curriculum to improve the network of care for Kazakh people.
Last July, faculty from CUSSW traveled to Astana, Kazakhstan, to participate in a "Train the Trainer" workshop for staff members at the newly established social work facility. Then, in September, the Kazakh participants made a one-week follow-up visit to their colleagues at CUSSW.
In addition to this overseas training, CUSSW has hosted Central Asian graduate students, and has plans to host faculty from Central Asian universities, Takamura said.
"Columbia University School of Social Work has welcomed students from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- as well as Russia -- to its master's program since 2001," she said. "Social work education is non-existent in many of these countries."
"Beginning in spring 2006, three members of the faculties of Central Asian universities will be in residence at CUSSW for three semesters," she added. "The educational immersion program in which they will participate will focus upon curriculum development and instruction in pedagogical methods."
Overall, Takamura is upbeat about the progress social work faculty have made in assisting their counterparts in Kazakhstan. "One of the major successes is that the Kazakhs have been able to adapt what we have taught them so that social work methods, interventions and skills are responsive to their own social needs," she said.