'My First COVID Patient was 11 Months Old'

Maya Utebaliyeva, pediatrician, talks about everyday life in an Atyrau polyclinic

Nazira Kaiymova
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Nazira Kaiymova
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Nazira Kaiymova
20 August 2021

“My first patient who got sick with COVID-19 was 11 months old. His illness manifested just like ARVI: he had a fever for 2–3 days. For his treatment, antipyretics were used and an IV once,” Maya Utebaliyeva, a 2 Grade Pediatrician recalls. Maya Utebaliyeva is 42, she has 20 years of experience as a pediatrician. Now she works at the Western private clinic in Atyrau.

UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Nazira Kaiymova
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Nazira Kaiymova
Maya Utebaliyeva is receiving patients in her office at the polyclinic

It was in the early summer of 2020. During this period, there was a shortage of medicines in Atyrau, as in many cities of Kazakhstan. The shortage was caused by people panicking and buying everything. Her patients addressed the pediatrician for help. In those days, she sent them antipyretics and antibiotics from her own stock by taxi. The shortage of medicines lasted for 2–3 weeks, then everything returned to normal.

To support the protective measures of the Government of Kazakhstan in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2020 and May 2021, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in partnership with the European Union, delivered 11,400 ampoules of Dexamethasone and 68 pulse oximeters to Atyrau Region. In general, as part of this partnership, more than 330,000 ampoules of Dexamethasone and 2,000 pulse oximeters were brought from the European Union to Kazakhstan as humanitarian aid.

“Now we are already used to it. Last March and April, everyone panicked because there was a lack of information. The patients had no medical background, and they read false information on social media and from various messaging. We were also panicking, but we tried not to show it. Because if doctors panic, there will be chaos. We compared treatment protocols with our European colleagues. In general, we have almost come to a single protocol,” Maya Utebaliyeva says.

For now, algorithms and treatment protocols have already been developed.

UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Nazira Kaiymova
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Nazira Kaiymova
Maya Utebaliyeva is listening to her patient’s breathing

When patients come to the clinic, their temperature is measured. If they have a fever, they are sent to the filtering room, where a free pediatrician receives patients. A child is tested for infection and sent home. After determining the disease, doctors visit patients at home. In case of complications, the patients are hospitalized.

Based on Maya Utebaliyeva’s experience, in 2020, positive PCR was diagnosed in adolescents aged 14–16 years; however, in 2021, mostly babies aged between 3 months and 4 years get sick.

“Children are usually mildly sick. Basically, we detect the disease by chance. If a family member gets ill, then all other family has to take the PCR test. And this is how the disease is detected in children. Basically, they do not have any symptoms,” Maya Utebaliyeva shares.

In 2021, late in May and early in June, Atyrau had a peak in morbidity among children. The children had a high fever. But the coronavirus infection also coincided with an enterovirus infection. These diseases have similar symptoms: a fever and

a rash may appear. However, in June there were many children with a positive PCR result.

“We treat children the same as adults, as for ARVI. We monitor the course of the disease and concomitant pathologies. If the temperature rises, we reduce it with antipyretics, if a patient has a sore throat or nose, we prescribe treatment for these organs,” Maya Utebaliyeva says.

UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Nazira Kaiymova
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Nazira Kaiymova
Maya Utebaliyeva is listening to her patient’s breathing

With the onset of the pandemic, Maya Utebaliyeva’s working hours changed, as those of many doctors around the world. For several months, she worked shorter hours, and since July 2021, she has been working full-time again. The time intervals between appointments have also increased. These measures were taken in order to comply with all sanitary and epidemiological standards: to treat surfaces and change protective equipment.

UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Nazira Kaiymova
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Nazira Kaiymova
Maya Utebaliyeva near the changing table in her office

“Now people’s consciousness has changed – you don’t have to ask them to put on masks or clean their hands with sanitizer. They demonstrate a more responsible attitude to their health. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic has already affected every family,” Maya Utebaliyeva says.

Funded as part of humanitarian assistance of the European Union and UNICEF. The opinions and views expressed belong only to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union or UNICEF. The European Union and UNICEF are not responsible for the above.

The children depicted in the photos are not related to the described cases from the pediatrician’s practice.