ASHGABAT -- A top World Health Organization (WHO) official has traveled to Turkmenistan, whose government has denied any presence of coronavirus within the Central Asian state's borders.
Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov held "constructive" talks with WHO's regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, when the two met in Ashgabat on October 7.
Kluge's visit came as hospitals in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Authorities in Turkmenistan continue to insist there are no coronavirus cases in the country, but they have imposed strict restrictions in territories where a high number of people with COVID-19 symptoms have been reported.
On October 6, several nongovernmental organizations issued an open letter in which they urged Kluge to publicly state the WHO's official position on the coronavirus situation in Turkmenistan.
According to the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, Democratic Civil Union of Turkmenistan, Association of Independent Lawyers of Turkmenistan, Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, and Turkmen.News online newspaper, the epidemiological situation in Turkmenistan is dramatic due to the spread of the coronavirus.
The groups called on the WHO official to publicly challenge the Turkmen government regarding its promise to provide the UN agency with biological material of patients with COVID-19 symptoms so that they can be tested by independent, international labs.
In January, Kluge said Turkmenistan had failed to meet the WHO's request to send samples of Turkmen patients diagnosed with pneumonia for testing.
WHO officials previously visited Turkmenistan in July 2020, after which the authorities imposed restrictions to prevent the spread of the disease in the country.
The WHO officials at the time recommended Turkmenistan carry out measures "as if there is coronavirus in the country."