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Uzbekistan: HIV-outbreak is covered up, anti-AIDS campaigner is sentenced

About 150 Uzbek children were infected with HIV in hospitals of Namangan, the third-largest city of Uzbekistan. Although the incident was registered in 2007-08, the issue became public only in March 2010, when the opposition-minded Ferghana.ru website (blocked in Uzbekistan) leaked a documentary [rus], which had been shot by the Uzbek TV following the order of the prosecutor's office.

The film cites Bakhtiyor Shodmonov, a representative of the Prosecutor’s Office in Namangan, saying [rus] that 14 of 147 infected children died (the documentary was shot in early 2009). He also said that 12 doctors and nurses from two hospitals in Namangan were tried in court, found guilty of mistreatment of the children and sentenced to 5-9 years in jail (see the film in Uzbek language here).

The news produced a big resonance in the blogosphere. Many people are shocked not only with the negligence of doctors, but also with the fact that the case was covered up by the government. Some even think that the sentence was not severe enough. Neoleo writes [rus]:

Слишком мало дали за детей, они же буквально убили их. А что говорить про родителей? Их судьбы тоже покалечены.

Punishment was too mild; they literally killed the children. And what about their parents? Their lives are ruined too.

There are more comments on Registan.net:

Metin: “those medical doctors got off easy; lifelong penalties would’ve been more appropriate. Lack of sense of responsibility in occupations influencing people’s lives needs to dealt more seriously”.

reader: “This is what comes of face-saving and ignorance”.

Jay: “Uzbeks know that hospitals are a place to go to die versus a chance at healing. This will only reinforce that belief”.

michaelhancock: “I remember when these hit town – It was when I was still living in Sayram [a city in South Kazakhstan Province, Kazakhstan], and many of the affected were young mothers from that same Uzbek-majority area”.

According to the Special Order of the Uzbek Ministry of Health, all hospitals havingchildren and surgery departments must employ an epidemiologist. Director of the children hospital in Namangan says in the documentary [rus] that although the relevant position was presumed in the hospital, no one was appointed to this job, although requests were sent to both city and provincial epidemiological stations.

Another fact – imprisonment of healthcare activist Maksim Popov – also reflects the government's attempts to conceal AIDS-related issues in Uzbekistan. Independent online newspaper Uznews.net reported [rus] that the Uzbek court has sentenced Maksim Popov, 28, a civil campaigner and head of anti-AIDS nonprofit organization “Izis” to 7 years in prison. The court has found that a brochure that he was distributing is allegedly “incompatible with local traditions”.

for_efel says [rus]:

раньше, за попытку открыть людям глаза на мир, сжигали на костре

in ancient times, many were burned for the attempts to open people's eyes

More controversial comments can be found on Registan.net:

Turgai Sangar: “[…]the thing is also that many of these internationally funded (or at least Western-designed) HIV prevention projects are, in practice, advocacy bureaus for prostitution and sexual debauchery. No matter whatever fancy development blabla come up, if you distribute condoms and offer free health care to prostitutes, you support and encourage the practice – period”.

Nathan: “[…]You know as well as I and many others do that prostitution existed and would have persevered even if no western NGOs ever set foot in Central Asia. […] Teenage males especially are in need of some kind of education about sexually transmitted diseases. Pre-marital and extra-marital sex in Central Asia happens, and it pre-dates western NGOs, Soviet bureaucrats, and tsarist governors, period”.

Anna: “I think that societies where sexuality is taboo are the most unsafe for women and children. I do work similar to Maksim’s and believe that supporting groups that are stigmatized by the general public is an important issue not only from public health perspective but also because these groups end up in inhumane conditions, living on the streets, struggling with alcohol and drug abuse, disowned by their families. […]“

The incident with Maksim confirms an unofficial ban on distribution of information about usage of condoms as prevention of HIV and AIDS that the Uzbek authorities [rus] applied for NGOs and international organizations, including UNICEF. Several days ago Aljazeera English aired a documentary film “AIDS on the Heroin Road”. The film focuses on endemic corruption in state apparatus and police forces as an important factor behind the spread of HIV in Central Asia.

3 comments

  • Jennifer Mc Cleary

    • Unbelievable! Shame on the Uzbek government for their lack of proactivity! Giving the doctors and nurses 5 to 6 years imprisonment and the AIDS activist 7 years is asinine! The Uzbek government’s priorities and “concern” is obvious. Rather than being concerned about innocent children and adults being infected with and dying of AIDS, their appearance towards the rest of the world is of more concern. I’m afraid this practice has back fired on them, as my opinion (and I’m sure the rest of the world’s opinion) of Uzbek government officials has plummeted. How despicable! My prayers go out to those afflicted with AIDS and to their families. Only God can save them at this point because their government could care less.

  • [...] another case, a health practitioner, Maksim Popov was sentenced to seven years in prison apparently as punishment for his work to raise public [...]

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