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Why is WHO office in Tajikistan being criticized?

A team of WHO experts has been in Tajikistan for over a week, monitoring the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. What conclusions they came to is still unknown. However, some experts are already saying that the World Health Organization failed its mission to Tajikistan.

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On May 1, a delegation of the World Health Organization visited Tajikistan in order to “clarify the situation”. WHO announced the arrival of its delegation a week ago, when Tajik government strongly denied the presence of coronavirus in the country. This occurred amidst the mysterious deaths of people and burials of the dead while observing increased security measures.

Galina Perfilyeva for a long time denied the presence of coronavirus in Tajikistan. Photo: ozodi.org
Galina Perfilyeva for a long time denied the presence of coronavirus in Tajikistan. Photo: ozodi.org

Galina Perfilyeva, the head of the WHO office in Tajikistan, likewise defended the Tajik authorities’ position about the absence of coronavirus in the country, before the announcement of the arrival of the organization’s expert mission. Just one week before the arrival of WHO delegation, Perfilyeva changed her position in an interview with the Moscow newspaper “Kommersant”, stating that she could not certainly say that there was no coronavirus in Tajikistan.

 To this day, both the official Tajik authorities and the WHO office in Dushanbe, deny that they hid information about the presence of covid cases. But one thing is obvious: the government officially announced the first case of COVID-19 in the country just one day before the arrival of the WHO delegation. Recognition, which according to many experts, was only due to the visit of a mission of WHO experts. Meanwhile, experts are wondering, how the infected people were identified only at the end of April, when all flights were banned from March 19, and all borders were closed from April 10?! 

Although WHO delegation immediately upon arrival in Dushanbe, stated that their goal is to help the Tajik authorities in the fight against COVID-19, and not to put pressure on the government.  

Patrick O’Connor, head of the WHO delegation, said in a statement that they have arrived in Dushanbe at the request of the Government of Tajikistan and with the help of UN agencies to cooperate in the fight against the coronavirus spread in this country. 

However, it is clear that many events have occurred and are taking place behind the scenes of the organization of this trip to Dushanbe that neither the government nor WHO are ready to comment. Particularly, the visit of WHO representatives to Dushanbe was not easy, and the help of Russia was required to organize it. 

On April 29, Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, during a meeting with Anna Popova, head of Rospotrebnadzor, asked Moscow to help with the WHO delegation to visit Tajikistan. According to WHO representative, Russia’s assistance is essential both in technical and political terms, “since Tajikistan and Turkmenistan listen to the words of Moscow”.

Kluge also expressed concern about the current situation, in particular with the increased cases of deaths from pneumonia in Tajikistan.

Another controversial aspect of the visit of WHO delegation to Tajikistan is that so far the programme of this visit has not been officially published. To date, meetings were held between the WHO representatives and Tajik officials, including Prime Minister Kohir Rasulzoda. However, it is unclear whether the delegation plans to visit the country’s hospitals and how they will assess the current situation.

WHO delegation at the meeting with Prime Minister of Tajikistan Kohir Rasulzoda. Photo: khovar.tj
WHO delegation at the meeting with Prime Minister of Tajikistan Kohir Rasulzoda. Photo: khovar.tj

World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations and began its work in 1948. According to experts, the main mission of the organization is to help countries create an effective healthcare system so that they can protect the health of their citizens. However, some experts are criticizing the work of the World Health Organization in Tajikistan, emphasizing that it is not doing its job.

Orash Aloi, director of the International Institute for Health and Research in New York, states that WHO’s work against the COVID-19 pandemic has been criticized not only in Tajikistan, but throughout the world.

 In an interview with CABAR on May 8, Aloi noted that WHO representative office in Tajikistan and in other countries were clearly slow to respond and, in spite of this delay, limited themselves to distributing a few brochures.

Оrash Aloi. Photo: rferl.org
Оrash Aloi. Photo: rferl.org

“What the WHO office in Tajikistan could have done is to immediately organize trainings on COVID-19, to explain how to prevent this disease and how doctors should act in different parts of the country. Secondly, in order to treat and prevent death, health workers should have been trained to reduce mortality from coronavirus. Third, to raise the issue of the availability of laboratories. One or two laboratories are not enough, and for diagnostics the number of laboratories should have been increased. Finally, explain what needs to be done in the early stages of the disease and before the peak. WHO could have helped the Ministry of Health to solve these problems”, added Orash Aloi.

According to Aloi, WHO did not provide such assistance to Tajikistan.

These days, WHO office in Tajikistan, especially its head Galina Perfilyeva, is heavily criticized on social media. It came to the point that at the initiative of a group of users, collection of signatures was started demanding Ms Perfilyeva to resign.

The representatives of Tajik civil society also sent a letter to WHO headquarters expressing concern over the actions of the head of the organization’s office in Dushanbe. The representatives of the civil society wrote in the letter that authorities denying the presence of the coronavirus in Tajikistan, referred to the statement of the head of the WHO representative. At the same time, some health experts say that one should not expect much from WHO and it is too early to draw conclusions about the fault of this organization.

Abdullo Davlatov, a Tajik doctor residing in Moscow, said to CABAR.asia, that he did not believe that WHO acted under the pressure from Tajik authorities.

“Despite the fact that WHO charter requires that it takes into account the interests of the host country, however, in professional matters, local offices comply with the organization’s own standards”, noted Davlatov.

He listed the main complaints in social media to the head of WHO office in Tajikistan.

“They did not inform about the presence of coronavirus on time. Coronavirus was called “pneumonia”. And finally they recognized the presence of coronavirus in the country under pressure”, said Davlatov.

However, according to him, there could have been discussions about the presence of coronavirus only at that moment, when its presence was confirmed by laboratory tests.

Abdullo Davlatov. Photo: ozodi.org
Abdullo Davlatov. Photo: ozodi.org

 “As soon as confirmation was received, it was immediately announced”, says Abdullo Davlatov.

Despite of the widespread criticism of the work of WHO office in Dushanbe, the organization itself has not yet made an official statement in this regard. Lately, there have been reports that Galina Perfilyeva is leaving the post of the head of WHO office in Dushanbe, however, last week she denied this information.

During the days that WHO experts were in Tajikistan, the media reported that patients who had not yet recovered were being discharged from the hospitals. According to media reports, this has been particularly common in Sughd region.

 According to Radio Ozodi sources, local authorities dismissed Sobirjon Sobirov, the chief doctor of the Sughd regional hospital, for refusal to discharge sick patients ahead of a possible visit by WHO representatives.

“Sobirov said that as a doctor, he cannot discharge sick patients. If they want, they can dismiss him. As a result, he was forced to write a letter of resignation. This way the authorities fired him”, Radio Ozodi reports. Sughd officials refused to comment on the dismissal of Sobirjon Sobirov.

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

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