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Doctors of Kyrgyzstan with the COVID-19 Diagnosis: Trade Unions Did Not Fulfill Their Mission

According to the Republican headquarter for the fight against coronavirus, as of April 20, 140 medical workers have been infected with the coronavirus in the republic. Doctors say that they were not provided with the necessary medicine and equipment, as far as it was necessary.

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For such statements, medical professionals are persecuted. Additionally, human rights activists criticized the trade union of health workers, which was supposed to defend the interests of doctors.

Among the infected health workers there are doctors, nurses, infectious disease specialists, laboratory assistants, epidemiologists, as well as workers in canteens and laundries. Kyrgyz Minister of Health Sabirzhan Abdykerimov, mentioned at a meeting of the parliamentary committee that an investigation is currently underway on identifying the ways that have infected the doctors.

“Wounded Soldiers”

Infectious disease specialist and expert in resuscitation, Maksat (name and place of work changed or not indicated at the request of the doctor himself ), who worked with people in places where many cases of coronavirus infection were recorded, is now in home quarantine. He was forced to temporarily send family members to live in another place.

Many of his colleagues have been infected by the coronavirus, and since the incubation period is not over yet, an increase in the number of infected among medical personnel is expected. Due to the fact that part of the medical staff fell into observation, Maksat was called up for observational duty. Without preliminary preparation, he had to work for two days in one protective suit, which, according to the rules, needs to be changed every 3-4 hours:

When I went on duty, only one suit was prepared there. If in the early days of the virus we were given special antiviral costumes, and then they ended, we would have admitted that we had been given special costumes and later they have finished. I was given a thin suit only once. But since there were no others, I had to wear it until the end of the shift.

Previously, doctors were trained how to work with artificial lung ventilation apparatus while treating patients. However, no one have explained them, what safety measures should be taken when working with infected people.

“After identifying an infected patient, they shouldn’t have called me to work without appropriate preparation. And I was sent to an observation. Nobody even told me that, there is such a situation in the hospital. It made me angry. And according to the schedule, I should not have been on duty. It turned out that many doctors, frightened by the state of affairs, refused to go on observational duty,” says Maksat.  

If we, infection disease doctors are not ready for such a situation, then what about others?

According to him, the used gloves and masks were thrown around the bathroom. The nurses did not receive any instruction on how to dispose of the used material, how to clean the glasses, and how many percent chlorine should be used for the disinfection.

“Throughout two days, we had only PPE. No one ever asked, if it was hard for us, and what was going on at work. This approach really upsets me. If we, infectious disease specialists are not ready for  such a situation, then what about others? Who will treat others? Andrologists, cardiologists, urologists? In short, we became like “wounded soldiers,” says Maksat.

 Where are the trade unions?

Human rights activists criticized the passive position of the medical trade union, which is designed to defend the rights of medical workers.

Cholpon Dzhakupova. Photo: adilet.kg

The head of the legal clinic “Adilet” Cholpon Dzhakupova notes that the first duty of trade unions is to protect the social, economic, and labor rights of their members. 

“Why do doctors get infected? Because they were not provided with the necessary medical clothing. While the state is seeking the necessary funds for the field of medicine, a lot of time passes. The medical trade union could allocate money from its budget for now, and equip the medical staff with all necessities, and not waste the precious time,” commented Dzhakupova in an interview for CABAR.asia.

The Law “On Trade Unions of the Kyrgyz Republic” says that trade unions are “voluntary public associations of citizens on the basis of common interests according to occupation in both production and non-production spheres, that are created to protect labor and socio-economic rights and interests of its members.”

Naken Saaliev. Photo taken from personal page on Facebook

The medical workers’ trade union is led by Naken Saaliev. According to him, members of the association are represented by 80 thousand people. They transfer to the union one percent of their wages on monthly basis.

70 percent of the amount collected remains in the union of each organization, and 30 percent goes to the account of higher unions in each region.

“Most of this money is spent on material assistance. Secondly, we have a children’s camp in Issyk-Kul. Every year, on the fourth stream of the camp, we send the children of health workers to rest. We spend a lot of money on repair work in the camp, on paying salaries to camp staff. Currently, the camp is not working due to quarantine. But despite this, we pay salaries to camp staff. In addition, we have students, who study at the Kyrgyz State Medical Academy, to whom we provide scholarships annually,” said the head of the trade union Saaliev.

However, at the same time, he did not specify how much money goes to the union every month.

“All information remained at work, and during quarantine I cannot visit my workplace. Each month a different amount is credited to our account, so it will be wrong to name just one amount now,” Saaliev added.

According to the data of the National Statistical Committee of Kyrgyzstan as of January 2020, the average salary of employees in the health and social welfare system amounted to 10,399 KGS (129 US dollars). Let us take this figure for the calculation.

With a salary of 10,399 KGS, 1 percent of contributions to the union is 103.39 KGS (1.29 US dollars). That is, 80 thousand health workers who are members of the trade union transfer 8 million 240 thousand KGS (102 557 US dollars) every month.

This amount is about 99 million KGS per year (approximately 1.2 million US dollars).

“The union is not concerned about us”

Expert in resuscitation and anesthesiologist Ainura  (name have been changed ), who is working in a city hospital in Bishkek, says the union does not care about the aspirations of doctors.

“We are not concerned about what is happening in the union, and the union is not concerned about us. The only thing they do now, is combating for the position, since the head of the trade union is retiring very soon. We only receive gifts for children For the New Year. We do not have any benefit from the union at all ” says Ainura.

According to her, the doctors did not undergo any training before the start of the coronavirus epidemic.

“Probably, the Ministry did not expect the arrival of the coronavirus. Nobody taught us how to wear and take off a medical uniform. In the beginning, doctors entered the observational rooms with and without masks, as a result we see that they infected each other,” she says.

According to Ainura, one doctor is given a protective suit once a day.

“Respiratory masks should also be changed every 2-3 hours; however, our doctors have to wear one mask for the whole shift,” she adds.

Kaldarbek Abdramanov. Photo: akipress.org

Doctor of Medical Sciences Kaldarbek Abdramanov also believes that the trade union of health workers should have stood up for their members.

“I have never heard that the trade union is conducting some kind of active work. Not only during this difficult time for us, but also for 30 years, when doctors faced many complications, where the trade union had to defend the interests of doctors,” says Abramanov.

The head doctor of the Center for Family Medicine No. 17 of Bishkek, Gulnara Tashibekova, says that she has not been able to find the head of the medical trade union for a week:

“Where is our union? Naken Saalievich, where are you? We have been looking for the head of the union for a week. I even wrote a post in social metworks. He disappeared, never once inquiring about our situation. And only after my post he sent me photographs of where they supposedly in “work” process,” Tashibekova says.

However, the head of the trade union, Naken Saaliev, does not agree with this assessment of his work.

“How it comes that we are not protecting anyone? On the contrary, currently a special attention is being paid to the rights of doctors. We are making every effort to ensure that doctors do not become infected with the virus. For example, doctors working in “hot spots” are paid good money. This is a considerable help to doctors,” Saaliev says.

The doctor was forced to apologize

On April 10, the doctor of the Issyk-Ata District Hospital Bektur Apyshev tweeted that doctors had to work in masks made of thin gauze. The next day, his account became unavailable, and in social networks they began to distribute a video where he apologizes for inaccurate information.


However, the public felt that the State Committee for National Security began to harass the doctor and forced him to refute the words said earlier. Activists even organized #BekTur flash mob in social networks in support of the doctor.

Human rights activist Anara Dautalieva believes that trade unions are afraid to openly support doctors and do not want to put themselves in a bad light before the government.

“The trade union is a big force. Such associations should primarily protect the rights of doctors and convey their aspirations to those in power. For example, it was necessary to take a look at the experience and how much the first sick doctor had paid. The union was supposed to help justify him and protect him from attacks. And the union simply kept silent. Now doctors are already afraid even to say something,” said Dautalieva.

Why do we need such a union then? It is necessary to make the trade union work!

Doctors themselves believe that the union is not able to protect their rights. Therefore, in most cases they turn to human rights defenders.

“Doctors contact us anonymously. In such cases, we can only help them with consultations, since we cannot send applications from anonymous authors to the relevant authorities. But we are not afraid, and the union is afraid. Why do we need such a union then? It is necessary to make the trade union work!”, human rights activist Cholpon Dzhakupova believes.

The Civil Control Committee, which includes more than 200 non-governmental organizations, believes that in emergency situations it is necessary to adopt a law to protect medical workers.

“It was recommended to parliamentarians that they adopt a law as soon as possible to ensure the safety of working conditions for medical personnel working in conditions of especially dangerous infections. In case of infection or death of doctors, compensation must be provided,” the committee mentioned.

Given the current difficult situation, the Forum of Women Members of Parliament, together with independent lawyers, have developed a draft law “On Amending the Law On the Status of Medical Workers”.

The document aims to protect the rights of medical staff working in a state of emergency and to ensure the safety of life and health of employees of healthcare organizations. The bill has been put up for public discussion, but the Civil Control Committee is asking for faster consideration and adoption.

Title photo: med.kg

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

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