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Kyrgyzstan: Officials Investigate Accidental HIV/AIDS Infections

(AFP) August 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz authorities are investigating how 11 people -- including nine children -- were infected with the HIV/AIDS virus in the southern part of the country. A number of local health officials have already been dismissed and it appears some will be charged with criminal negligence in a case that already has sad precedents in Central Asia.

Toktogazy Kutukeev, a senior official in the Health Ministry, gave the grim figures in comments to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on July 30.

Children Infected

"For the time being, nine children are infected with HIV," he said. "Their blood has been checked three times so far. And also one doctor and a nurse at the children's hospital in Osh have been found to be HIV-infected, so a total of 11 people [are infected]. It happened during some improper medical procedures such as inserting a catheter, giving an injection, or a blood transfusion. The commission has not yet completed its work."

The most publicized case is in southern Kazakhstan's city of Shymkent, where at least 118 children and 14 adults have been infected with the deadly virus.

The infections all occurred at the Nookat Hospital in the southern Osh province and the children were all two years old or younger. The hospital's chief physician and the head of the regional pediatric center were among those dismissed.

According to a release from Kyrgyzstan's Health Ministry, the head of the children's section, Tolon Shaynazarov, had been reprimanded in 2005 for the HIV infections of two children at the hospital. This information was confirmed to RFE/RL by Kasymbek Mambetov, the head of health care in the presidential administration.

Mambetov said the government is taking steps to help those children infected with the virus.

"We are checking both donors and pregnant women in the Osh region now," he said. "Our psychologists and other doctors are working with the parents of those nine children [infected with HIV]. We are ready to treat them with antiretroviral therapy drugs offered by the Global Fund [based in Geneva]. The treatment will be free of charge because the drugs are so expensive. Each treatment costs several thousand dollars."

Poor Oversight

The head of the presidential administration, Medet Sadyrkulov, has already sent a request to the Prosecutor-General's Office demanding punishment for the parties responsible for oversight in the transmission of the disease.

Kyrgyzstan is not the only Central Asian country to be affected by the accidental transmission of HIV at hospitals.

The most publicized case is in southern Kazakhstan's city of Shymkent, where at least 118 children and 14 adults have been infected with the deadly virus. Some 21 health-care workers and local officials were sentenced for their roles in failing to use or check that sterile equipment was used and that the blood from local blood banks was not contaminated.

At least six people, including a 4-year-old boy, were accidentally infected with HIV/AIDS at a hospital in Tajikistan at the end of last year also. Zuhra Nurlaminova, of Tajikistan's HIV/AIDS prevention center, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that the infections could have come from blood donors and she admitted that the system for recording donors still needs to be improved.

"In the past, up to last year, when a person gave blood the medical staff wrote down the first name of the donor and year of their birth," she said. "Now they only write down a number. If there are mistakes in the numbering we cannot find individual donors [for testing]."

Informing The Public

Information about similar incidents in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan is very difficult to obtain due to those governments' reluctance to report bad news in their countries.

Boris Shapiro, the founder and former head of Kyrgyzstan's HIV/AIDS prevention center, laments the fact that accidental infections of hospital patients are occurring.

"I want to say that as the creator of this [HIV/AIDS prevention] service and as someone who for many years headed the service, I also feel myself to be guilty," he says. "We somehow were not able to properly instruct not only our medical personnel but also the media. The media reports the cases as they become public but [the media] needs to report regularly, to inform us. I am greatly concerned today that we are not giving enough information to the younger generation."

The accidental infections in Kazakhstan did prompt authorities there to tighten checks on blood donated at blood banks and also put a new emphasis on using only sterile equipment in hospitals. The incidents in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will likely lead to similar measures in those countries.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz, Kazakh, and Tajik services contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL Reports On AIDS

RFE/RL Reports On AIDS

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FACES OF THE EPIDEMIC: HIV-infection rates continue to soar in many parts of RFE/RL's broadcast region, from Ukraine and Russia to Central Asia. RFE/RL frequently reports on the problems associated with the pandemic and efforts to combat them.


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