Kalmykia, Russia TB Project
Kalmykia is a republic of Russia, located in southwest part of the country between the northwest tip of the Caspian Sea and the city of Volgograd. It was settled approximated 400 years ago by Kalmyk people who migrated from southern Siberia. It is a very poor, sparsely populated region, with a population of nearly 300,000, approximately one third of whom live in the capital city of Elista and about half of whom are ethnic Kalmyk. Kalmyks can trace their heritage back to Mongolia and practice Tibetan Buddhism, making them a unique population in Europe.

After visits to Kalmykia in 2007 and 2009, SFI co-founders Darlene Markovich and Ron Haak began to explore what might be done to help the people of the region. One key problem, they were informed, was TB. Darlene and Ron subsequently made two additional trips to Kalmykia, bringing several health care experts to aid in the assessment of TB control program. This team subsequently formed the board of directors for SFI and formally initiated the project in late 2011.

Key Achievements
  • June 2016: Unfortunately, the grant to study the genetics of TB in Kalmykia was not funded. However, there are still ideas for how the program might be done. The effort might be reconsidered depending upon the interests of the new management team at the TB Dispensary. But SFI did commit to continuing to provide assay cartridges for the GeneXpert at least through 2017.
  • June 2015: A grant proposal to study the genetics of TB in Kalmykia was submitted by Caitlin Pepperell of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The proposed program will involve UW, SFI, the Central TB Research Institute in Moscow, and the Elista, Kalmykia TB clinic.
  • 2014 & 2015: SFI continues to support the GeneXpert in Elista, Kalmykia, by providing both assay cartridges and an annual service/calibration kit. In addition SFI provided other supplies requested by the Elista team.
  • May 2014: Caitlin Pepperell, University of Wisconsin, Madison, along with Sharon Perry and Ron Haak of SFI met with representatives from the Central TB Research Institute in Moscow and with the TB control team in Elista, Kalmykia, to make final plans for the NIH grant proposal to study the genetics of TB in Kalmykia.
  • September, 2013: Sponsored an "Educational Exchange" between the TB clinics in Elista, Kalmykia and Ulan Ude, Buryatia. The intent of the exchange is to bring additional knowledge on TB testing and treatment into Kalmykia and to build collegial relationships between the staff of the two clinics.
  • August, 2013: SFI committed to providing GeneXpert assay kits to the Kalmykia TB laboratory through 2014.
  • July, 2013: Proposed a joint molecular epidemiology program involving the University of Wisconsin, Madison, SFI, the Central TB Research Institute in Moscow, and the TB clinic in Elista. Goals of this program include studying if ethnic Kalmyks have an elevated susceptibility to TB and, ultimately, to create more effective disease control policies to lower mortality and morbidity due to TB.
  • May, 2013: Participated in the first International Physician's TB Conference held in Elista, Kalmykia with talks given by Dr Sharon Perry of SFI and Dr Caitlin Pepperell, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • April, 2013: The Kalmykia TB laboratory successfully completed the GeneXpert implementation program.
  • December, 2012: The Kalmykia TB laboratory successfully completed the GeneXpert validation.
  • June 2012: Sent a delegation to Kalmykia that included Dr Errin Rider, an expert in validation of the GeneXpert. Dr Rider gave an introductory seminar to members of the TB clinic in Elista, assessed the installation of the GeneXpert, and provided training to laboratory staff. In addition, SFI provided the TB Clinic with a validation and implementation protocol.
  • May, 2012: Obtained a GeneXpert – a state of the art TB diagnostic instrument that can provide results within 2 hours as opposed to the existing solid culture method that can take more than 2 months – and assay kits for the TB laboratory in Elista, Kalmykia.
  • October 2011: Sponsored a joint US – Kalmyk delegation to attend the 42nd Union World Conference on Lung Health in Lille, France. Dr Sharon Perry of SFI accompanied three persons from Kalmykia, including the head of the TB Clinic and the head of the TB laboratory.
  • June 2011: A delegation from SFI evaluated the TB control program and met with top health authorities in Kalmykia. The joint team established several objectives, including bringing new TB assay equipment into Kalmykia, bringing TB control experts into Kalmykia to give talks, and initiating a joint research program to study the apparent sensitivity of ethnic Kalmyks to acquiring TB.
Kalmykia, Russia, Blood Center Project
The visit to Elista, Kalmykia, in May 2016 included meeting with representatives from the Blood Center. They requested that SFI assist them by acquiring a state-of-the-art PCR analyzer and associated supplies that could be used both for evaluating blood donations as well as for testing potential blood donors and others for various diseases, including HIV and hepatitis. In October 2016, the SFI board of directors approved the purchase and in late December 2016 and early January 2017 the equipment and supplies were delivered to the Blood Center. It was agreed that the equipment would be dedicated to the memory of former SFI board member and scientific coordinator, Sharon Perry, who passed away in 2015.

Joy is Round
To provide soccer and other balls to groups of the poor communities.

Personal experience, reinforced by an article in a recent National Geographic, illustrates that the popular game of soccer is played in many places without 'real' soccer balls. Balls are sometimes made from any alternatives that are available, eg, plastic bags. Children and adults living in poverty in many parts of the world need so many things that are essential: food, shelter, health care and education. They also need fun and play. While this program cannot begin to satisfy the essential needs, the aim is to try to encourage play and fun for a few by providing soccer and other balls.

Request Procedure
Requests for balls should be made to SFI. Requestors should provide a brief statement for why a donation is needed and the expected impact of the donation. SFI will evaluate requests on a monthly basis.

If a request is approved, SFI will typically provide the requestor with cash -- via check, bank transfer, or Western Union transfer -- to locally purchase the ball(s). The requestor will be obligated to provide a picture (cell phone photo) of the receipt for the purchase of the ball(s).

Initially a maximum of three balls will be provided to any requestor or any group.

While not essential, one or more photos of recipients of balls would be much appreciated.

Key Results
Joy is Round in Kenya, March 2017

This year SFI will give grants to five schools in Kenya. Three in the East Baringo area: Chomolingot Primary School, Chomolingot School for the Hearing Impaired and Nginyang Boarding Primary School; two in Kajiado: the School for Rescued Masai Girls (HELGA), a School for the Disabled; and Mintuntu School in Soteni Village (a school for boys and girls with HIV/AIDS). The grants have been given to schools and organizations that have been determined by those working with SFI to be those in most need. Notably the area of East Baringo is one of the driest and poorest in Kenya and is primarily inhabited by the Pokot tribe.

In this round of grants The Joy is Round Project is using an organization called 'Alive and Kicking' to make the balls. 'Alive and Kicking' has a workshop in the Nairobi where young people from the slums are taught the skills of making soccer balls and working with leather. In this way all money from the grants ends up in the country where there is a need.

Children's Day Event in Kalmykia, June 2016

During the visit to Elista, the head of the Buddhist khurul (temple) requested that SFI provide funding for a Children's Day event for a group of very poor and orphaned children. The funding covered both the event itself as well as for soccer balls, volleyballs, and other gifts for the children.

Support for Health Clinic in Bagan, Myanmar
SFI was very pleased to provide Dr Hla Tun and his team at the clinic in Bagan, Myanmar, with a hematology analyzer. Discussions are underway regarding how SFI might provide additional assistance.

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