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Tajikistan: AIDS, Too, Will Hit Hard

Prague, 20 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- In the run-up to International AIDS day on December 1, a senior health official in northern Tajikistan has disclosed a sad statistic, namely that the Central Asian state recently registered its second HIV-positive person.

Word of that came from the head of the National Health Committee of the Leninabad district, Mahmudjon Rabijonov. But experts believe that the real number of HIV positives in Tajikistan is many more than just two, possibly as many as 25. For a country of six million people, 25 cases of AIDS infection may not be a big number. But it is a message of a new epidemic for a country which has already been suffering from such epidemics as typhoid, malaria, diphtheria, contagious rash and the spread of tuberculosis and venereal diseases.

In the present decade, civil war has not been the only disaster to hit the republic. The wartime conditions brought economic disruption, plummeting living standards and a growing number of refugees -- all factors assisting the expansion of contagious diseases. The Tajik government could not devote enough money for a health improvement campaign, for prophylactic measures or for treatment of infected people. That is why thousands of people have been infected with typhoid or diphtheria, malaria or venereal diseases.

The most dangerous and widely-spread epidemics in the 1990s in Tajikistan have been malaria and typhoid. Both those diseases were completely eliminated in the country 30 or 40 years ago, but they have returned. According to Qurbon Sattorov, head of Center of the Tajik campaign against tropical diseases, nearly 21,000 people have been registered in the republic as infected with malaria. But he says the real number is approximately 60,000, most of whom avoid going to doctors and prefer self-treatment.

The disease was first registered in the southern Khatlon district, in the villages bordering Afghanistan, in 1991. Malaria then slowly spread to the whole of Khatlon district, to the capital city of Dushanbe and to districts around that city. In the first 9 months of this year about 4,500 infected people were registered in the town of Kurgonteppa, more than 1,500 in town of Kulob and more than 300 in Dushanbe.

Sattorov says that 86 per of infected people are residents of Khatlon district in the south. The northern district of Leninabad remained safe from the disease until just recently, but since September more than 200 residents there have also caught malaria. Experts says the cause of the spread was internal migration of people.

The second dangerous epidemic in the country, which has affected about 30,000 people, is typhoid. This disease also originated in the southern part of Tajikistan, in mid-1996. According to experts, polluted water supplies led to its spread. In most regions of the republic people use open water resources such as brooks and rivers, but covered water supplies have also proven not to be safe. Because of lack of money to buy chlorine for disinfection, the mayor of Dushanbe last year suggested passing non-disinfected water to the distribution system of the city. That continued until spring of this year. During 1997, 15,000 people in Dushanbe have suffered from typhoid. In some cases the diseases spread to all residents of nearby villages. And in the small town of Chiptura more than 300 residents were infected with typhoid all at the one time. The spread of the disease throughout the country has now been contained by the efforts of the government and international organizations.

But other epidemics are still continuing and spreading to new regions of Tajikistan. In addition, more and more people are being affected by venereal diseases. But in Tajikistan it is impossible to register those suffering from such ailments, and as a result they all conceal their illness and turn to self-treatment.

Earlier this year the Tajik government adopted a national program for a campaign against contagious diseases, with the aim of containing them by 2005. Under the current circumstances of Tajikistan, including the financial situation, it's difficult to predict whether the government can implement its program and contain the epidemics, many of which are found around the whole of Central Asia.
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.