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Ailing Turkmen Economy Could Be Taking Toll On Public Health

  • Bruce Pannier

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports that some owners of livestock appear to be selling meat from potentially infected animals along roadsides at half the cost of state stores. (file photo)

An increasingly clear picture is emerging of Turkmenistan’s economic problems and their effects on its population, thanks to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service and sites like chrono-tm.org, habartm.org, and fergananews.com.

Joblessness is rising and many employed people aren't getting paid on time. There are shortages of basic goods and long lines as people wait to purchase rations of cooking oil, sugar, flour, meat, and other items.

But there are also other indicators of an ailing economy.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, has reported on a suspected anthrax outbreak in the northern province of Dashoguz. People there say cattle are showing signs of the sickness.

Turkmen authorities have not said anything about it, but they almost never do, or would.

In areas of southern Kazakhstan, not adjacent to but not far from Turkmenistan, there have been officially reported cases of anthrax among cattle, and Turkmen authorities recently ordered the closure of their border with Kazakhstan. So it’s possible that is what is afflicting cattle in northern Turkmenistan.

Large areas of Central Asia are routinely given over to the herds, so such local outbreaks are recurrent and easily recognizable to locals.

In the case of Dashoguz, part of the problem seems to lie in the rising price of antianthrax vaccines, which is likely to have discouraged some herders from vaccinating their cattle.

Poultry is also dying off in some regions.

Azatlyk reports that some of the owners of those animals appear to be selling that meat along roadsides at half the cost of state stores. In some cases, livestock and poultry owners are hurriedly slaughtering their animals before they might show signs of disease.

Turkmenistan devalued its currency, the manat, by some 23 percent in early 2015 but has taken no further steps on the currency to complicate foreign trade. Additionally, Turkmen authorities have limited the amount of hard currency available not just to citizens but also to businesses. So purchasing vaccines, or medicines more broadly, has become much more expensive.

That makes it more difficult for Turkmenistan’s people to buy foreign-made products and for Turkmenistan’s government to stock up on potentially necessary items. Cuts have to made somewhere during hard economic times.

The government appears to have failed to purchase sufficient vaccines for Hepatitis A, for example. There was an outbreak of Hepatitis A in areas of Turkmenistan in November that mainly appeared to affect young schoolchildren.

In Dashoguz Province, not only did many children become ill with Hepatitis A, but some doctors misdiagnosed the symptoms. In at least two cases, doctors operated on children for appendicitis before learning the children had Hepatitis A, underscoring deficiencies in Turkmen health care.

Just after New Year's, a report said Russian company Vektor-Bi Algam would be sending vaccines for Hepatitis A.

While that is some consolation, the average citizen of Turkmenistan still faces financial problems buying medicines. Azatlyk reports that the price of medicine has roughly doubled since January 1.

Many medicines and vaccines are apparently unavailable at state pharmacies. Workers at private pharmacies in Turkmenistan, speaking on condition of anonymity, complain that nearly all medicines and vaccines are produced outside Turkmenistan, forcing those businesses into using black-market rates that heavily debase their manats.

It's a grim start to 2017, which President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has declared the Year Of Health in Turkmenistan.

With contributions from RFE/RL's Turkmen Service
The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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