Tajikistan finally confirms COVID-19 cases and deaths

Last night (5 May), the official sources reported more than 3,200 patients under quarantine, 293 confirmed coronavirus cases and 5 deaths in the country. It was also reported that Tajik President Emomali Rahmon signed a decree to dismiss Tajik minister for health Nasim Olimzoda after his three years’ service in this position. The reason given was a transfer to a new job but without any further clarification. Another reason may also be repeated denials of COVID-19 existence in the country by MHSPPRT throughout April. Nasim Olimzoda was succeeded by Jamoliddin Abdullozoda, who was the director of medical center ‘Istiqlol’ in Dushanbe.     

A few deaths and increased number of patients with pneumonia created rumors among people and media about the outbreak of COVID-19 in Tajikistan during April but MHSPPRT repeatedly denied it. This could probably be due to lack of capacity to correctly test for coronavirus or to prevent panic-buying that occurred early in March and caused sharp rise in flour price by 100 percent. The panic-buying stopped after the Tajik president announced that the country has two years’ stocks of staples.

However, it was observed during the last week of April that the Tajik citizens took this global pandemic seriously and strived to take precautionary measures. About 90 percent of people were already wearing face masks in Dushanbe, many people were buying antiviral and anti-fever medicines without any prescriptions, antiseptics and disinfectants. Mosques were already closed for a period of uncertainty and schoolchildren were on a two-week temporary vacation. Even some families left Dushanbe for the country, thinking it is safe in rural areas.      

The first 15 confirmed coronavirus cases, 10 in the northern city of Khujand and 5 in Tajik capital Dushanbe were only announced by MHSPPRT on April 30, 2020. The authorities strengthened preventive measures and imposed severe restrictions on mass gatherings. Currently, it is mandatory to wear a face mask when one is out of home. Social distance is strictly observed in public places such as banks, supermarkets, drug stores etc. Open door cloth markets were shut down and mosques remain closed. Institutional educations and kindergartens will be on vacation until mid-August.   

Caritas Germany in Tajikistan, having foreseen the possible outbreak of COVID-19 in its annual action plan, purchased and distributed 2,000 protective suits, 810 hygiene kits and 400 packages of foodstuff to 16 cities and districts in Tajikistan. This humanitarian aid was provided at the formal request of MHSPPRT and with financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Two hospitals and two rehabilitation centers in Dushanbe, regional hospitals in Khujand, Kulob, Bokhtar and Khorugh cities and central hospitals of Vahdat, Rudaki, Lakhsh, Rasht, Shahrinav, Isfara, B. Ghafurov, J. Rasulov, Istaravshan and Devashtich cities and districts which are under quarantine received from 20 to 200 pieces of protective suits as per the list provided by MHSPPRT. Hygiene kits (soap, antiseptic, disinfectant, etc.) and packages of foodstuff (flour, oil, sugar, pasta, etc.) were distributed to most needy families, particularly those families with a disabled member in Dushanbe, Vahdat and Isfara cities and Rudaki, Lakhsh, Rasht, Shahrinav, B. Ghafurov, J. Rasulov, Istaravshan and Devashtich districts. Also, hygiene kits were provided to all social workers of the departments of social assistance at home in the above-mentioned cities and districts. In addition, information posters and stickers were distributed and recommendations were provided to raise awareness of COVID-19 and protective measures against it among beneficiaries.

Although this humanitarian aid was a drop in ocean in order to meet the countrywide needs, however it was in right time, the distribution finished just a few hours before the official announcement of COVID-19 cases in Tajikistan. During interviews with doctors it became clear that the hospitals under quarantine were not prepared to combat COVID-19. Even some doctors cried that they even did not have these protective suits and other necessary items and were happy of this donation. According to them, some doctors resigned from work due to improper conditions for their safety and taking care of patients. It was also mentioned by them that they lack antiviral medicines and the price for them increased ten times and they are not available in drug stores.