Chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD) is a very common and also treatable lung disease that can be caused by pollution and smoking. It is preventable, and there are many medications for it, but some medical professionals believe that this doesn’t go far enough to treat the disease.
Across the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, nurses and physical therapists are using the traditional Kara Jorgo dance to help patients with COPD.
The rates for COPD are unusually high in Kyrgyzstan. According to professor Talant Sooronbaev, director of the National Centre of Cardiology and Internal Medicine, in the capital of Bishkek, patients with the disease number as high as 200,000. For a country of 6.5 million, this “is a very serious problem.” COPD is actually one of the top three causes of death worldwide, with most of these occurring in lower-income countries.
Kyrgyzstan has over half a million smokers and widespread indoor pollution from many rural Kyrgyzstanis heating their homes with dung or coal. Oxygen, inhalers, and antibiotics can be too expensive for many patients, so Sooronbaev decided on a different approach.
He and his colleagues implemented a physical therapy program using Kara Jorgo, Kyrgyzstan’s national dance which offers a range of body movements, helping patients with the breathlessness, chronic cough, and fatigue characteristic of the disease.
“Almost all patients, before doing this, complain of shortness of breath, a cough and say they have no physical aptitude,” says Aidai Temiraly Kyzy, a 24-year-old nurse who leads her patients in Kara Jorgo dance therapy in one of the country’s largest hospitals. “But, even on the second or third day, the improvement is noticeable. Physically, they can do more. I’ve seen patients with really low mood transform and, by the end, they smile and are so grateful.”
The program has grown and is now being adopted by Kyrgyzstan’s health ministry. It is now being used in three hospitals and two general practice surgeries. The program runs for six weeks with two two-hour sessions a week, along with dietary and exercise education classes to help patients take what they learn home and continue their recovery.
Doctors have described the therapy as having a life-changing effect, restoring some patients who were depressed and dependent on oxygen back to a more active and healthy life. Sooronbaev wants to bring this dance therapy to the whole country and beyond.
“When we give patients with COPD medicine and drugs, this is not a real medical service,” he says. “Pulmonary rehabilitation is an important part of treatment. This is why we have plans to extend, and why we will share our experience with neighboring countries – Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.”