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saglyk logoJuly 15, 2020

Dear Saglyk Reader,

Today the WHO Regional Office for Europe held a press briefing with WHO/Europe experts on the preliminary outcomes of their COVID-19 mission to Turkmenistan. Dr. Catherine Smallwood, WHO/Europe’s Senior Emergency Officer and mission lead, and Dr. Gurbangul Owlyagulova from the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry of Turkmenistan made statements and answered questions from Turkmen and international press.

Three main take-aways from the press briefing:

↪ According to WHO, Turkmenistan has not reported any confirmed cases of COVID-19. There is no COVID-19 in Turkmenistan.

↪ WHO is aware of and concerned about reports of the increase of pneumonia cases in the country.

↪ The WHO team believes that the authorities have to act as if there is COVID-19 in Turkmenistan.

We are deeply dismayed that WHO spent 10 days in the country and went along with the government’s narrative that "there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19". We are alarmed that this misinformation by WHO empowers the government to do nothing and allows the human suffering and loss of life in Turkmenistan to continue unnoticed. During the visit WHO followed the protocol that was set in Turkmenistan during the Soviet era. WHO accepted the Ministry’s showcasing without any questions and visited cherry-picked, scrubbed-shiny hospitals with ample beds, and happy doctors and patients.

The government and WHO are complicit in masking the public health emergency in Turkmenistan. Our consistent monitoring of COVID-19 measures in the country and the absence of the ministry’s public communication over the last five months show that the crisis is unmanaged, the Ministry is silent and disengaged with the public and WHO is only good at giving evasive, generic, politically neutered answers to the public. We receive a lot of reports of people experiencing “not pneumonia like symptoms” but COVID-19 like symptoms – including loss of smell and taste. They must be suffering from COVID-19. While Dr. Smallwood acknowledges the increased pneumonia cases in the country, Dr. Gurbangul Owlyagulova dismisses it by saying that "it is not unusual numbers of pneumonia cases".

WHO has been invited as a "myhman" (an honorable guest) to our shiny "Turkmen house" and didn’t bother to look "under the rug" to see the real picture. Instead, the public learns about the virus and epidemiological situation through rumors, not government communications. To many of you who have been asking us about the availability of COVID-19 tests in the country it would be interesting to know that according to Dr. Gurbangul Owlyagulova, the Ministry Representative, 60,000 COVID-19 tests have been done at a lab with good capacity. But no results have been shared with the public. The public also remains in the dark to where they can get tested, which is one of the most frequently asked questions by readers of Saglyk.org.

We feel disturbed by the dissonance between WHO’s words and actions. The government representative says that the National COVID-19 plan is publicly available. We have been asking WHO and UN Turkmenistan for access to this plan for the last month. It is not publicly available and the only response to our request has been silence.

We have been asking the Ministry of Health and WHO a lot of detailed questions over the last five months. We have sent our recent letter to WHO and several organizations on July 9, 2020. We are releasing our email exchange with WHO so you can see that what we learned from WHO today could have been stated without a 10-day trip to Turkmenistan.

To stop the virus, suffering and loss of life in Turkmenistan we need your participation. Now is the time to take charge of your health and the health of your community. Please support our work and share our СOVID-19 content. And please do send us your news and questions so we can help with information dissemination. And please contact the ministry and WHO Turkmenistan with your questions and concerns and implore them to be more transparent and proactive. We will continue our work in asking the government and WHO to make the public a part of discussions about their health and their future. Please join us!


The Saglyk Team

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