Human Rights Watch is warning that Turkmenistan is putting the country’s health in jeopardy by denying an apparent outbreak of the coronavirus in the Central Asian state.
The rights watchdog on June 27 urged the Turkmen government to gather and publicize data about the infection in the country, make testing widely available, and stop silencing health workers.
Turkmenistan is one of very few countries worldwide that claims it has no cases of COVID-19.
“Every minute that Turkmenistan’s government conceals the truth about COVID-19 in the country, it’s putting lives and health in danger,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should stop this reckless denial and urgently adopt appropriate public health measures.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to send representatives to Turkmenistan in early July, after seeking since at least April to visit the country.
Turkmenistan should allow the WHO to conduct its visit fully in line with the organization’s terms of reference and should immediately start carrying out WHO recommendations and guidelines for COVID-19 prevention and data collection, Human Rights Watch said.
In February and March, Turkmenistan introduced some measures against the spread of the virus, including limiting entry to the country and raising awareness about handwashing and other hygiene measures.
But until April, state media and high-level government officials were mostly silent about the situation. The authorities have not promoted any social-distancing measures and instead have held mass public events. They have sought to silence medical workers and others from speaking out about the impact of the virus in the country.
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry publicly repudiated a June 24 alert published on the U.S. embassy’s website that acknowledged there were “no official reports of positive COVID-19 cases,” but noted “reports of local citizens with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.”
The Foreign Ministry called the statement “distorted,” “baseless,” and “fake.”