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COVID-19 in Tajikistan: Healthcare Workers Have to Buy Protective Equipment at Own Expense

The country’s media published healthcare workers’ complaints about the lack of protective suits in the country’s hospitals, but the Ministry of Health denies the facts of medical clothing’s sale and its purchase by doctors. During our investigation, we discovered that hospitals and medical centres employees in Tajikistan have to buy special protective suits, gloves, masks and glasses at their own expense.

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The President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon also confirmed the protective clothing and other medical supplies’ sale (archive). At one of the meetings with the Sughd region’s activists in Khujand, he noted that the investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office revealed cases when the individuals took an advantage of the situation and committed consumer fraud. As an example, he mentioned the head of the warehouse of the Konibodom Central Hospital N.Muminov, who bought 15 special medical suits from the “Imdodi Gairat” public organisation for 120 somoni ($10.6) and illegally resold them for 250 ($22) somoni.

According to the President of Tajikistan, 45 criminal cases were opened on such grounds.

In this regard, on July 28, 2020, the Deputy Director of the Agency for State Financial Control and Combating Corruption Muzaffar Rajab Ahmadzoda told CABAR.asia that cases of selling protective clothing to doctors were revealed during a joint inspection with the Accounts Chamber of Tajikistan.

During these inspections, several cases of funds’ misappropriation were identified. There were also cases when medical supplies and medicines arrived at healthcare facilities, but were not officially registered.

During the investigation, our sources – healthcare workers, confirmed that employees of hospitals and healthcare centres in cities and regions of the country forced them to buy protective clothing at their own expense. At the same time, most of our sources, fearing to lose their jobs and for personal safety, refrained from disclosing their names.

The main cause of the Tajik doctors and nurses’ death is the lack of hygiene products and protective equipment, as they are at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus.

Ramzullo Yusufov, doctor at Hospital No. 1 of Kangurt jamoat, Temurmalik district, Khatlon Region, told us they used to buy gloves and masks at their own expense. He said that initially, he did not have special protective clothing; later, he bought it.

Ramzullo says doctors should be provided with protective medical equipment so they neither get infected nor infect others.

“In the beginning, there was a lack of hygiene products; there were no conditions at all. The patients arrived; we trusted in God and examined them. In other cases, we were asked to go to the patients’ homes to provide the first aid,” he said in CABAR.asia interview.

According to him, in such conditions, the risk of getting infected with this virus and other diseases was extremely high.

The doctor says there are doctors in their hospital who still examine patients in ordinary medical clothes, without special protection.

  1. S., an employee of the Sanitary and Epidemiological Service of Sughd Region, also confirmed the purchase of special protective clothing at the doctors’ expense. He noted that he was one of the first to complain to his management in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, in February, that they were working in hospitals without protective clothing.

“We really did not have protective equipment. However, when the management had to send us to the airport or to the infectious diseases hospital, they found the protective clothes somewhere. At that time, it cost from 160 to 250 somoni ($15-22),” our source told anonymously.

Yu. A., a nurse at the healthcare centre in Khujand, said that during the first month of the virus outbreak, many workers quit work because of the lack of protective clothing. However, the management did not let them go.

“The management threatened them: if they do not continue their work, they will not be able to work in any other hospital in the future,” said Yu. A.

In a conversation with us, some employees of the “Shifobakhsh” state institution (“Karabolo” hospital in Dushanbe) also said they bought medical protective clothing at their own expense. The institution’s management denies this information.

“Recently, we bought a complete set of such clothes for 450 somoni ($39.8). Probably, only the doctors of the Accident and Emergency Department receive such clothes free of charge. However, most of the hospital’s departments operate on a self-financing basis, and the doctors buy personal medical clothes and other equipment themselves,” the healthcare centre’s employee told anonymously.

Sulaimon Davlatov, Deputy Director of the “Shifobakhsh” National Medical Centre. Photo from the Internet
Sulaimon Davlatov, Deputy Director of the “Shifobakhsh” National Medical Centre. Photo from the Internet

Sulaimon Davlatov, Deputy Director of the “Shifobakhsh” National Medical Centre, denied information about the doctors buying protective clothing, including medical protective suits.

He stated that the messages about management forcing doctors to buy medical protective suits at their own expense were false.

“This February, we distributed 350 medical protective suits in 5-10 sets to each department,” he claims.

Another doctor from Sughd region told CABAR.asia that at the hospital where he worked, all departments were obliged to purchase a certain amount of masks, gloves and protective suits. Since there is no separate fund in the departments, the managers and the rest of the medical staff had to purchase protective equipment at their own expense.

According to him, the Ministry of Health advised the regional hospitals to purchase protective equipment at their own expense.

“The Ministry asked hospital managers to compile a list of absent supplies, including protective equipment, and to contact local authorities to resolve the problem rather than addressing the Ministry of Health,” the source said.

The Ministry of Health and Social Protection of Population of Tajikistan does not deny that it instructed hospitals to purchase protective equipment for their staff at their own expense, specifying that only those hospitals providing patients with paid services received such instructions.

The press centre of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection of Population of the Republic of Tajikistan answered the question of whether Tajik doctors receive medical protective equipment (alcohol/antiseptics, masks, disposable gloves and suits) free of charge these days, or they buy it themselves:

“The mentioned products are provided to doctors free of charge. In case of a shortage, the heads of medical institutions pledged to provide them to their workers. If necessary, the heads of healthcare institutions are obliged to provide doctors with the necessary protective equipment at the expense of funds received on the basis of the Decree of the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan of December 2, 2008 No. 600 “On the procedure for the provision of medical and sanitary services to citizens of the Republic of Tajikistan in public healthcare institutions”, or at the expense of funds at the disposal of city and regional executive authorities”.

The controversy over the sale of medical protective clothing sparked debates on social media. In particular, on April 17, lawyer Lola Yakubova wrote on her Facebook page: “THEY SELL DOCTORS A PROTECTIVE SUIT FOR 150 SOMONI!!! WHERE ARE THEY SUPPOSED TO FIND MONEY? WHERE IS THE HUMANITARIAN AID??? I CAN GUESS: THEY SELL IT. SHAME!!!”

Another Facebook user Gulsiya Sherzamonova (archive), on April 13, 2020, wrote the post from her family doctor’s words, “Today, I talked to the family doctor (district doctor). She says that they are forced to buy protective suits. She told the price, and they make them buy more than one – 10 sets. Is it true? If it is, then the medical bosses, are you out of your mind?”

In a conversation with CABAR.asia, Gulsiya Sherzamonova confirmed her words. However, the family doctor refused to talk to us, noting that all the information that Gulsiya provided was correct.

The country’s media also report the regular selling of medical protective suits to Tajik doctors. In particular, on May 5, the Asia Plus website published an article titled “4 suits and swimming goggles instead of protective eye shields for 12 doctors” (archive), where the doctors complained about the lack of medical supplies, including suits and eye shields.

The Minister of Health and Social Protection of Population Jamoliddin Abdullozoda. Photo: moh.tj
The Minister of Health and Social Protection of Population Jamoliddin Abdullozoda. Photo: moh.tj

The Ministry of Health and Social Protection of Population of the Republic of Tajikistan provided an official response No. 1-5/4501 on July 1, signed by the Deputy Minister Alizoda to our request about the sale of special protective medical clothing.

It states that the sale of protective clothing is strictly prohibited, and those who do it, will be punished by authorized government agencies in accordance with the current legislation of the country.

“The protective medical clothing was imported with the support of the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan at the expense of budgetary funds and humanitarian aid from the development partners. Its sale is strictly prohibited, and it is available to doctors free of charge,” the official response states.

The Ministry of Health officials deny reports of a shortage of protective clothing and its purchase by healthcare workers, but statistics and analysis from international organisations demonstrate the opposite.

On June 10, the UN office in Tajikistan reported that more than 1,700 Tajik healthcare workers were infected with the new coronavirus since the virus outbreak. The main reason is “the lack of personal protective equipment, especially in the early days of the spread of the disease”.

At the recent press conference, the Minister of Health and Social Protection of Population Jamoliddin Abdullozoda told reporters that, “not a single case of a doctor’s death was registered during the treatment”.

This statement sparked debates, and later, the representatives of Health Departments in Khatlon and Sughd regions reported the death of at least 30 healthcare workers from COVID-19 and pneumonia.

The RFE/RL Tajik Service also stated in one of its investigations that the majority of the likely victims of COVID-19 in Tajikistan were healthcare workers (72).

The main cause of the Tajik doctors and nurses’ death is the lack of hygiene products and protective equipment, as they are at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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