UN Agencies urge the Government of Kyrgyzstan to reconsider the initiation of new investigations brought against doctors and nurses accused of infecting children with HIV
December 9, 2011
The infection of 191 children with HIV in hospitals in South Kyrgyzstan between 2007 and December 2011 is a tragedy. All measures should be taken to ensure that these children receive proper care and support and no more children get the virus. A growing pressure on individual healthcare workers hinders such measures and diminishes any efforts on healthcare system improvement. The UN is concerned to learn that 14 healthcare workers have faced criminal charges, of whom six have been given three year prison sentences based on allegations of negligent execution of their professional duties that resulted in the transmission of HIV infection to children.
The UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS* is concerned with the reports of new investigations into cases of HIV infection of children while in hospitals. Firstly, the assessment of highly qualified international organizations (including the US Centers for Disease Control, the World Bank and John Snow International) indicated poor hygiene conditions and the re-use of injecting equipment in hospitals due to shortages and interrupted supplies of essential injecting equipment (needles, syringes, i/v catheters) could have resulted in children becoming infected. It may not be a failure of a particular doctor or nurse, but rather a failure of the healthcare system as whole to provide hospitals with the essential equipment required to prevent transmission of HIV infection and other pathogens in healthcare settings. None of the assessments conducted by the technical experts found that healthcare workers deliberately infected children with HIV.
Secondly, it should be pointed out that HIV-infected children were exposed to multiple healthcare procedures, handled by multiple healthcare workers and sometimes in more than one health setting. In this context it is extremely difficult to find evidence that an individual child contracted HIV due to the failure of a particular healthcare worker or group of healthcare workers.
Placing all the responsibility on individual health care workers can only add to the ongoing tragedy and would further erode the trust between the patients and the health care system. It may result in the hiding of such cases in the future and consequently result in a serious aggravation of the problem. The ongoing protests of healthcare workers in Southern Kyrgyzstan exemplify the negative repercussions of the punitive approach opted for by the justice system.
To prevent such tragedies from ever happening again, it is essential to undertake major system-wide action to ensure that reliable infection control measures are adopted and systematically applied in all paediatric hospital settings. The UN is willing to continue to support the Government of Kyrgyzstan in this critical area of work.
* including UNAIDS, WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, OHCHR