MSF Closes Programs in Turkmenistan after 10 Years

Despite urgent health needs last international NGO given little choice but to stop activities

Berlin/Ashgabat, December 17, 2009 - The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has closed its medical activities in Turkmenistan after ten years of working in the Central Asian country.

“Medical needs in Turkmenistan are still high and there is a good reason for us to work here, said Frank Dörner, General Director at MSF. However, our project proposals have been repeatedly rejected which does not leave us with a lot of choice but to close down. We had hoped to be able to assist the Turkmen population which is exposed to high rates of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and still has no access to care and effective treatment.”

Turkmenistan, like the rest of Central Asia, faces high levels of tuberculosis (TB). The emergence and growing transmission of drug-resistant forms of TB, such as multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB), is especially worrying. More than 20 percent of newly diagnosed TB patients and 33 percent of patients who have failed previous treatment have MDR TB, according to the Turkmen Ministry of Health and Medical Industry in its recently accepted application to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria.

“Taken at face value, these resistance rates indicate a deeply alarming situation,” said Christoph Hippchen, MSF Country Manager in Turkmenistan. “Therefore, we urge the Turkmen Government to recognize the immediate need for comprehensive TB and MDR-TB care. Currently there is no comprehensive treatment for MDR-TB and plans put forward in the Global Fund application only propose a slow implementation. According to the national strategy, the first patient would effectively be treated in 2013 but people are dying today.”

MSF offered to cooperate with the Ministry of Health and to start an MDR-TB program immediately – thereby accelerating a possible countrywide program by years. However, the Ministry of Health has already rejected two MSF proposals to start work. “What is most disappointing is that Deputy Prime Minister Saparliev has invited us to further support the Turkmen Government in implementing quality care for MDR-TB patients, but discussions have once again been stalled at the Ministry of Health level.”

With MSF closing its medical activities, Turkmenistan loses the last international humanitarian NGO in the country. For the sake of its people, MSF appeals to the Turkmen Government to speed up their plans to implement a quality national TB/MDR-TB program, as well as to realize the scale and urgency of the TB crisis. Moreover, the World Health Organization and the Global Fund should not turn a blind eye to the health crisis looming in Turkmenistan. MSF remains committed to assist the Turkmen Government to provide quality treatment for its people and is open to further negotiations.

MSF has been working in Turkmenistan since 1999, when it first introduced internationally recognized standards for TB treatment in the country. For the last five years, MSF has been working in the district hospital in Magdanly, eastern Turkmenistan, to improve the quality of paediatric and reproductive health care, before the project was closed in mid-September 2009.