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Doctors Without Borders Hopeful Of Resuming Work In Turkmenistan

Frank Doerner: "Keeping an open door."
Frank Doerner: "Keeping an open door."
ASHGABAT -- The general director of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says he hopes Turkmenistan will reconsider its cooperation with
the organization so that it can resume activities in the country, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.

MSF announced on December 17 that it was leaving Turkmenistan after disagreements with the Turkmen Health Ministry.

But Frank Doerner told RFE/RL that MSF is "keeping an open door" and hopes it will have the possibility of renegotiating with the Health Ministry so that it could return to Turkmenistan.

MSF is the last international nongovernmental organization operating in Turkmenistan.

Christoph Hippchen, MSF's country manager in Turkmenistan, told RFE/RL that MSF is closing its office in Ashgabat because it could not get permission from the government to begin a program to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis.

"We are still open to negotiate with the Ministry of Health. They have indicated they are open to further cooperation," Hippchen said. "But [in] the last 1 1/2 years, we have not seen a lot of progress, so that's the issue we are dealing with.

"We would like to assist them to get a treatment program for multidrug resistant tuberculosis going sooner than they plan to do, and we have all the expertise. That's what we can offer, and we hope that we can reopen."

Doerner said every fifth person with tuberculosis in Turkmenistan has the drug-resistant form of the disease, which is difficult to cure. He said the 20 percent ratio is an "alarming number."

Doerner said that the Turkmen government is not able to respond to the problem quickly enough, adding that the ministry's program would only begin in 2013, whereas the MSF program could begin next year. He said "people need treatment now" and that all delays "will increase...the individual suffering and deaths due to the drug-resistant tuberculosis."

MSF has been working in Turkmenistan since 1999, when it first introduced internationally recognized standards for tuberculosis treatment in the country.

It had most recently been working in eastern Turkmenistan to improve the quality of pediatric and reproductive health care.