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For One Kyrgyz Mother, A Long Search For Answers -- And Justice

Gulya's son was given 11 separate blood transfusions.
For nearly three years, Gulya, a young mother from southern Kyrgyzstan, has sought to bring to justice doctors who she believes were responsible for infecting her son with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Gulya, who didn't want to give her full name, insists her son contracted the virus during a blood transfusion in the hospital.

Her son, who is now 4 years old, underwent surgery for a serious head injury in their local Kyzyl-Kiya district hospital in August 2010. Several months later, during a medical check-up in the capital Bishkek, the boy tested positive for HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.

"My son underwent plasma and blood transfusions 11 times in total. Later, we found out that the blood he was given in the first transfusion was tainted with the virus," Gulya said.

For Gulya, who's raising her son alone, this was just the beginning of a now three-year struggle for answers and accountability. Prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into her son's infection in 2011, but the case has since dragged on without resolution, leaving Gulya without a shot at government compensation -- a desperate plight that prompted her to reach out to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

Gulya's son is one of 488 HIV-positive children officially registered in Kyrgyzstan. According to the National Center For HIV/AIDS, 313 of them were infected in hospitals.

The parents and the nongovernmental group Info-Center Rainbow have blamed the infections on insufficient medical checks of potential blood donors, as well as other negligent practices by medical workers such as the reusing of syringes.

The country was first rocked by an HIV infection scandal in 2008, when it emerged that more than 40 children had contracted the virus in Nookat district hospital in southern Osh Province.

Compensation Claims

Several medical workers were jailed for negligence and malpractice after that outbreak amid public concerns over conditions in hospitals across the country.

Despite health officials' promises to improve conditions in hospitals, it emerged again in late 2011 that more than 200 children in the impoverished south had tested positive for HIV. The National Center For HIV/AIDS reported that the children had been infected through transfusions of HIV-contaminated blood in hospitals.
Parents of HIV-positive children protest in Osh in November, 2011.
Parents of HIV-positive children protest in Osh in November, 2011.

Many of the parents have since been seeking compensation from the government.

Gulya claims she turned down a $8,000 financial settlement offered to her by doctors at the Kyzyl-Kiya hospital, who allegedly pleaded with her not to take the case to court. She says she wants justice for her son, who faces an uncertain future because of medical workers' negligence.

Investigations have so far determined that a male donor who gave blood in Kyzyl-Kiya on the day Gulya's son was admitted to the hospital later tested positive for HIV. The donor had spent some time in Russia shortly before giving blood. Doctors, however, insist the man wasn't HIV-positive when he volunteered to donate blood.

Prosecutor Sanzhar Abzhalov, who is dealing with the case, accuses medical workers of failing to meet requirements in selecting donors.

"During questioning, doctors said if the person was infected with HIV, it's not always possible to determine that in the first three months. It could justify why his HIV infection wasn't determined during the tests prior to donating blood. But it was obvious that the man had just returned from Russia. It is prohibited here for those who come from Russia to become blood donors until after three months of their return," Abzhalov said.

Furthermore, doctors in Kyzyl-Kiya dispute Gulya's claim about the origin of her son's infection, saying it was not clear if the boy was given that particular donor's blood. Besides, Kenesh Abdymomunov, the chief of the blood-transfusion department at Kyzyl-Kiya hospital, says the boy was treated in at least two different hospitals in different cities, and it is now impossible to prove when and where the boy contracted the virus.

Meanwhile in Bishkek, health officials insist they have taken "serious measures" to prevent similar cases in all state hospitals. "Every hospital across the country now has a trained specialist to tightly control all the preventative measures in every department of the medical institution," says Julys Askarova, head of the National HIV/AIDS center.

For Gulya, these measures have come too late. But she says she's trying to hold onto hope. "My son is always happy, he laughs a lot," she says. "I'm protecting him from getting cold and everything else that might hamper his recovery."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reports by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service correspondent Aziza Kultaeva.
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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.