Coronavirus: Why has Turkmenistan reported no cases?

While many countries have imposed major restrictions, life continues as normal in Turkmenistan.

Coronavirus: Why has Turkmenistan reported no cases?
The mass cycle rally is billed as a highlight of the day of health on 7 April

As the Covid-19 map gets covered by growing red circles, several countries still haven't registered a single case of infection, including one of the most repressive states in the world - Turkmenistan. Many experts are concerned its government may be hiding the truth, which could disrupt attempts to end the pandemic.

While the world battles coronavirus and more and more countries lock down their populations, Turkmenistan is holding a mass cycling rally to mark World Health Day on Tuesday.

The Central Asian country claims it still has zero coronavirus cases. But can we trust the figures provided by a government renowned for censorship?

"Official health statistics from Turkmenistan are notoriously unreliable," said Professor Martin McKee from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has studied the Turkmen healthcare system.

"For the past decade they have claimed to have no people living with HIV/Aids, a figure that is not plausible. We also know that, in the 2000s, they suppressed evidence of a series of outbreaks, including plague." 

Many in Turkmenistan are even afraid of suggesting Covid-19 may already be in the country.

"My acquaintance who works in a state agency told me that I shouldn't say that the virus is here or that I heard about it, otherwise I may get into trouble," said a resident of the capital Ashgabat, who asked to remain anonymous.

Image caption In February, Turkmen hospitals did have posters about coronavirus but they were removed

The Turkmen authorities are, however, working on tackling a possible outbreak.

Together with UN agencies in the country, they are discussing a plan of action.

The UN Resident Co-ordinator, Elena Panova, told the BBC that this plan included country level co-ordination, risk communication, case investigation, laboratory diagnostics and other measures.

When I asked her whether the UN trusted the official figures showing Turkmenistan had no confirmed Covid-19 cases, Ms Panova avoided giving a straight answer.

"We are relying on official information because this is what all countries are doing," she said. "There is no question of trust because that's the way it works."

Ms Panova said early measures on restricting travel might have contributed to lack of confirmed cases.

Turkmenistan did indeed close most of its land border crossings more than a month ago.

It also cancelled flights to China and some other countries in early February and started diverting all international flights from the capital to Turkmenabat in the north-east, where a quarantine zone was created.

However, according to several residents, some people were able bribe their way out of the zone and avoid two weeks of isolation in a tent.

Ms Panova said everyone arriving in the country and those showing symptoms were being tested for Covid-19. However, she could not give exact figures of how many tests were conducted a day and how many test kits Turkmenistan had overall.

"What we understand in talking to government officials is that they have sufficient tests."

 

But how ready is the health system to deal with a coronavirus outbreak?

"We don't know," Ms Panova admitted. "We've been told that they have a certain level of preparedness and we don't doubt it... as the hospitals here are very well equipped."

"However, if there is an outbreak that's a huge pressure on the health system like in any other country. So, irrespective of how much you've prepared, it usually is insufficient. That's why we're already talking to them about procuring ventilators, and also other types of equipment."

There is some sense of awareness of the outbreak among the public. Movement between cities has been restricted and those who enter Ashgabat must now have a doctor's note.

Image copyrightTurkmen state TV
Image caption President Berdymukhamedov is frequently seen cycling or in other sporty pursuits

Markets and offices are being fumigated with smoke from a type of grass called yuzarlik, used in herbal remedies, after President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said burning it would ward off the virus - despite there being no evidence.

But unlike most of the world, daily life in Turkmenistan continues as normal.

Cafes and restaurants are open. Crowds gather for weddings. Nobody wears masks and mass events are going ahead.

It appears the country is in denial about admitting the major threat posed by coronavirus.

Why might that be? The World Health Day mass cycle may provide an explanation.

President Berdymukhamedov is the biggest star and the main focus of the annual event.

The image of health is part of his cult of personality. State TV regularly shows him lifting weights in the gym, or cycling on his bike. He is the main driver of "health and happiness" campaigns in which state employees wearing identical uniforms do their morning exercises.

The main message of all these events is that the nation is healthy, and thus happy, thanks to the president.

Mr Berdymukhamedov proclaimed his presidency as the "era of might and happiness". And an outbreak of Covid-19 could expose how hollow his messages are.

It is for this reason the Turkmen government might try to conceal an outbreak, even if its citizens do get infected.

And that is what worries Prof McKee.

"We have seen how the Covid-19 infection moved rapidly from China to all parts of the world. In this globalised economy that we now live in, every country is only as secure as the weakest country in the world," he said.

"Even if other countries manage to get the epidemic under control, there is a risk of continued seeding of infections from those countries that have failed to. It seems that Turkmenistan may well be another example." BBC

 
 

Other News

.
Smart learning solution from ILA in post-Covid-19 time
Smart learning solution from ILA in post-Covid-19 time
SOCIETYicon  23/05/2020 

There are many reasons and criteria for parents to consider when choosing a learning model for their children since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.

Health ministry considers repatriating British pilot after being treated for coronavirus
Health ministry considers repatriating British pilot after being treated for coronavirus
SOCIETYicon  22/05/2020 

Vietnam's most critically ill COVID-19 patient, a British pilot, has now been deemed to be coronavirus-free, and the health ministry is considering the option of bringing him back to the UK for further care depending on his condition. 

Court sentences 15 in exam cheating scandal in Hoa Binh
Court sentences 15 in exam cheating scandal in Hoa Binh
SOCIETYicon  22/05/2020 

The People’s Court of Hoa Binh province on May 21 sentenced 15 defendants involved in the 2017-2018 national high school exam cheating scandal

Latest Coronavirus News in Vietnam & Southeast Asia May 22
Latest Coronavirus News in Vietnam & Southeast Asia May 22
SOCIETYicon  22/05/2020 

20,000 made-in-Vietnam Covid-19 test kits exported

Smoking increases risk of COVID-19 community transmission
Smoking increases risk of COVID-19 community transmission
SOCIETYicon  22/05/2020 

Smoking can increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission within the community as it weakens lung function and immune response to infections, an official said.

Liver from Hanoi brings revival to patient in HCM City
Liver from Hanoi brings revival to patient in HCM City
SOCIETYicon  22/05/2020 

A liver donated from an unfortunate brain dead woman in Hanoi has been transported to Ho Chi Minh City for transplant to a local patient, saving him from severe cirrhosis.

Convenience stores become ideal heat shelters for Hanoi young people
Convenience stores become ideal heat shelters for Hanoi young people
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

Convenience stores in Hanoi have become ideal heat shelters for many young people amid the blazing hot weather.

Private nursery schools face teacher shortage
Private nursery schools face teacher shortage
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

Many private nursery schools in HCM City and neighbouring provinces are facing teacher shortage after three-month school closure.

Hanoi large trees left to die as construction stagnates
Hanoi large trees left to die as construction stagnates
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

Over a hundred of large trees along Hanoi's Kim Ma Street which were relocated to a rented garden for the Nhon-Hanoi railway project are being left to die.

Over 1,000 experts coming to Quang Ngai to be quarantined
Over 1,000 experts coming to Quang Ngai to be quarantined
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

The central city of Quang Ngai will receive and quarantine over 1,000 foreign specialists coming to work at the Dung Quat Economic Zone and Hoa Phat Steel Company.

Heavy rains forecasted to hit northern, central regions
Heavy rains forecasted to hit northern, central regions
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

The northern and northern central regions of Vietnam would face downpours from this evening, May 21, following scorching hot days.

Vietnam to continue testing Covid-19 vaccine on mice
Vietnam to continue testing Covid-19 vaccine on mice
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

Company for Vaccine and Biological Production 1 (VABIOTECH) under the Ministry of Health will conduct a second test of Covid-19 vaccine on mice next month.

Doctors to transfer British pilot to Cho Ray Hospital before lung transplant
Doctors to transfer British pilot to Cho Ray Hospital before lung transplant
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

The country's 91st COVID-19 patient, a British pilot, will be transferred to the intensive care centre in HCM City’s Cho Ray Hospital to have a lung transplant when the patient is healthy enough for the procedure.

HCMC Hospitals report increase in heat-related illnesses
HCMC Hospitals report increase in heat-related illnesses
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

HCM City and other localities in the south have recorded temperatures of 38-39 degrees Celsius in recent days, leading to more heat-related illnesses, especially among children and the elderly.

12 suspects involved in BIDV violations to be prosecuted
12 suspects involved in BIDV violations to be prosecuted
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

The Supreme People’s Court has decided to prosecute 12 people involved in banking operation violations at the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam (BIDV).

Latest Coronavirus News in Vietnam & Southeast Asia May 21
Latest Coronavirus News in Vietnam & Southeast Asia May 21
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

Eight wide-body aircraft transport Vietnamese medical supplies to US

Legal proceedings launched against deadly wall collapse case in Dong Nai
Legal proceedings launched against deadly wall collapse case in Dong Nai
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

The police of the southern province of Dong Nai on May 20 decided to start legal proceedings against the deadly wall collapse case at the Giang Dien Industrial Park.

Court upholds sentences for defendants in fake medicine case
Court upholds sentences for defendants in fake medicine case
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

The High-level People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City on May 20 upheld the verdict handed down at the first-instance trial in a case involving the “manufacturing and trading of counterfeit medicine”.

Time to let motorbike’s little lights shine?
Time to let motorbike’s little lights shine?
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

A new draft law by the Ministry of Transport is aiming to shed some light on Vietnam's traffic problem.

Learning pressure is the biggest concern for children: survey
Learning pressure is the biggest concern for children: survey
SOCIETYicon  21/05/2020 

A recent survey has found that learning pressure is the biggest challenge children face while staying at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 
 
 
Leave your comment on an article

OR QUICK LOGIN