Echoes of Shymkent?

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by Joshua Foust on 3/23/2010 · 8 comments

In 2007, Kazakhstan was rocked—sort of—by a scandal at a hospital in Shymkent. In short, about a hundred children contracted HIV after receiving transfusions from HIV-positive donors. It was a terrible reminder both of the general state of medical infrastructure outside the two biggest cities, and the generally ignored or swept under problems relating to HIV transmission.

Now, two hospitals in Namangan have been identified in a newly released documentary as infecting at least 140 children with HIV, resulting in the deaths of at least 14. The hospitals are in Namangan, and the infections have been blamed on tainted equipment and negligent doctors. has leaked the documentary. It’s remarkable that 14 children would die so quickly: two years from infection to AIDS to death is an incredibly quick progression for HIV. Typically, the lifespan of an untreated HIV-positive victim is about ten years; the rapid death of the children in Namangan could indicate they either had a unique and especially deadly strain of the virus, or the conditions in those two hospitals were so bad they simply died of rampant opportunistic infections.

Either way, both the massive infection and the sudden die-off of so many young HIV patients is pretty shocking. It’s not terribly surprising the Uzbek government decided to cover up the incident—the recent arrest and imprisonment of HIV activist Maksim Popov tells me they care a lot more about not talking about the problem than addressing the infection and mitigating its effects. What a terribly sad story.

UPDATE: I see the AIDS 2010 conference in Vienna, Austria, will focus on Eastern Europe and Central Asia. How timely!

Image comes from Joshua Kucera’s flickr page.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Metin March 23, 2010 at 1:04 pm

those medical doctors got off easy; lifelong penalties would’ve been more appropriate. Lack of sense of responsibility in occupations influencing people’s lives needs to dealt more seriously.

DE Teodoru March 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Ha! Good old Commie days. In Ceausescu Romania they gave blood infusions to orphans by the thousands so they got HIV across country. Outcry from public was responded to with: don’t worry, they’re all gypsies!” The medical practices of Central Asia are NOW very similar to East Europe in 1980s, even for a lot of big shots, but those training here do quite well as there they learned how to learn!

Brett March 23, 2010 at 7:12 pm

I believe HIV-related deaths after two years aren’t that unusual for children – kids who are born HIV+ often die much earlier than 10. That 10-year figure is a general rule for adult progression of the disease; in kids it’s another animal altogether.

reader March 23, 2010 at 9:56 pm

This is what comes of face-saving and ignorance.

Jay March 23, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Uzbeks know that hospitals are a place to go to die versus a chance at healing. This will only reinforce that belief.

Also they desire and value peace (tinch) so much they never complain, are willing to suffer, etc. However, when children/family are involved Uzbeks will get very angry. We’ll see how this plays out.

Paul March 24, 2010 at 7:19 am

These are some terrible news! Especially when it is about my home town and home country. How are such things possible in a demographically small, but very rich country?

michaelhancock March 25, 2010 at 11:50 pm

I remember when these hit town – It was when I was still living in Sayram, and many of the affected were young mothers from that same Uzbek-majority area. How sad.

Michael Andersen March 26, 2010 at 12:19 am

Yesterday we aired our documentary film – ‘AIDS on the Heroin Road’ – on Aljazeera English.
The film focuses on state and police corruption as an important factor behind the spread of HIV in Central Asia.

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