Cholera outbreak in Uzbekistan: myth or reality? –

by Symptom Advice on September 25, 2011

Through its media service, Jahon, the Uzbek foreign ministry appears to be denying claims that Uzbekistan is experiencing an outbreak of cholera. the ministry of health in Uzbekistan and the state epidemiological surveillance unit are also refuting reports of a cholera outbreak and are doing nothing to prevent the spread of the disease. “If we announce a cholera diagnosis, then we immediately have to organise quarantine, and nobody wants that,” said one doctor in the Tinchlik village hospital in Yangiyul district, Tashkent. Quarantine, he says, means that villages and towns where cholera has been identified have to be ‘shut down’, and clean drinking water has to be supplied, which is an extremely costly operation for the district authorities, especially in villages like Tinchlik. Hardly surprising to find cholera “We haven’t had clean water for 20 years. the old water pipes have crumbled but nobody has ever replaced them,” said Akramkhodzh Mukhiddinov, member of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan (PAU) and also a resident of Tinchlik. Mukhiddinov claims that many people who have their own transport bring drinking water from Yangiyul or Tashkent, but most people take water from waterways running through the area. “People take water from the irrigation channels, then boil it and drink it. there is no alternative when there is no clean mains water,” says Mukhiddinov. He claims that people most at risk of contracting cholera are those who take water from the Boz-Su river. “A 45-year-old man, who drank water from this river, died recently in our village,” Mukhiddinov says. the human rights campaigner believes that, given the living conditions in Tinchlik and its neighbouring settlements, it would be amazing if an outbreak of cholera did not happen here. Health ministry denies the outbreak Meanwhile, Uzbekistan’s health ministry and foreign affairs ministry are categorically denying reports of a cholera outbreak. “When you present them with concrete facts about people dying from an illness, the symptoms of which are extremely similar to those of cholera, ministry of health civil servants don’t respond, claiming that they have heard of no such instances.” one Tashkent journalist remarked. Uzbekistan’s state epidemiological service also denies the outbreak of cholera. “We are currently running a campaign to vaccinate children against measles and German measles, but have heard nothing about cholera. if there were cases, we would have made statements about this,” said one employee of the state epidemiological surveillance service in Chilanzar district, Tashkent. “The symptoms of cholera – vomiting and diarrhoea – are similar to those of other intestinal illnesses, and it is possible that people are mistaken about what is actually wrong,” an employee of the epidemiological surveillance unit speculated. When asked about cholera, the source asked us not to use his name. So where do we stand? Despite official denials, many doctors are saying confidentially that there are cases of cholera now in Uzbekistan. They do not hide the fact that people have died from an intestinal illness, the name of which doctors will not spell out to their relatives. “I am convinced my husband died of cholera after he swam in the Boz-Su river,” says Mukhabbat, a 30-year-old Tashkent resident. the outbreak of cholera would appear to be confirmed, at least, by events in Yangiyul district and in Yangiyul hospital, where, in mid-August, dozens of people arrived each day with symptoms of this disease – not only vomiting and diarrhoea but also severe dehydration. Previously, the Almazarsk district of Tashkent had experienced cholera-like illness, also linked to water from the Boz-Su river. “It is very easy to explain why information about a cholera outbreak is being hushed up, and you can see this in the text of the foreign ministry’s statement,” said one Tashkent doctor, who also asked to not to be named. “As a member of the World Health Organisation, Uzbekistan has to update the European regional office of this body round-the-clock, but if it did inform WHO about these circumstances, WHO would send out a special commission which would see for itself the terrible living conditions of those people who have contracted cholera,” he said. “Will our government allow that to happen?” an source asks, adding that as winter approaches, the cholera bacteria will become less active, and the cover-up may therefore outlast the outbreak.

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