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4 августа 2023
Svetlana Romashkina, photo by Zhanara Karimova

The Virus of Ignorance

It has infected the whole country, from healthcare to ecology

The Virus of Ignorance

A hospital in Almaty kicked off an investigation in June after three of its patients were infected with HIV as a result of a blood transfusion. Aizhan Yesmagambetova, the deputy minister of health, said on August 1 that the cause of the infection was unknown. “It could have occurred because the intensive care staff failed to abide by the standard procedures,” she said.

The head doctor and a range of medical staff were fired in this instance.

Patient zero, according to the investigation, was someone who was admitted to the hospital because of another illness and initially tested negative for HIV. Before he could be tested again, however, he died. The three people who shared his intensive care room were infected, and the identical sequencing in their HIV analyses proves the origin.

In 2006, in a hospital in Shymkent, more than 100 children were infected with HIV after blood transfusions. Later, in Almaty and Astana, a large-scale infection with Hepatitis C resulted in a trial, but the judge dismissed the case.

These kinds of news stories continue to appear regularly.

Eight years ago, in an interview with Vlast, Bakhyt Tumenova, the president of the Amansaulyk Foundation, highlighted that investigations should teach lessons for preventing accidents.

“Finding the cause of an accident is key in order to prevent it from happening again. But checks here are punitive, so those who are under investigation naturally try to hide the real cause. And this is how the problem repeats,” she said.

Tumenova, at the time, said that such an attitude could lead to new instances of massive outbreaks of HIV or Hepatitis C infection.

The virus of ignorance, however, has spread across Kazakhstan beyond healthcare: we have lost count of how many investigations remain without a conclusion. For example, the events in Zhanaozen in 2011 or Qandy Qantar, the suppression of urban protests last year, are still unclear. As are the massive poisoning of children in Karaganda or the forest fires in the Abai region. The list is long, and it keeps growing.