Analysis: Turkmenistan jumps from regional pariah to regional health risk with home remedies for animal diseases

Those who have observed Turkmenistan for a few years have become accustomed to the eccentric and often ridiculous antics and decrees of the country's authoritarian president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

Their mismanagement of the economy and their lack of respect for the welfare of their own people are tolerated by the world in general to some extent because everything is confined within Turkmenistan.

Berdymukhammedov has not really harmed other countries, but, ironically, the man who likes to be called "Arkadag" or "Protector" makes the lives of his own people very difficult.

An example of this is the inability of Turkmenistan to produce or import enough medicines for the population. Instead, Turkmen are urged to read a book supposedly written by Berdymukhammedov, Turkmenistan's medicinal plants, about herbal treatments that can be found in the mostly desert country of some 5.6 million people.

But the state television council last week that dangerous animal diseases can be cured using the same herbal treatments marks a new stage in the irresponsible behavior of Mercurial Berdymukhammedov and his government because zoonotic diseases cannot be confined within Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (archive photo)
Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (archive photo)

The World Health Organization explains in its joint external evaluation of the basic capabilities of the RSI of Turkmenistan, Mission 2016 report"Zoonotic diseases are communicable diseases that can spread between animals and humans." The report continues: "Approximately 75% of recent emerging infectious diseases that affect humans are of animal origin; and approximately 60% of all human pathogens are zoonotic."

Ebola, bird flu (bird flu), anthrax, salmonella and dozens of other diseases are zoonotic diseases, they spread among animals and are sometimes transmitted to humans.

Livestock With TB

It is unlikely that the herbal remedies proposed by the Turkmen authorities have much effect in preventing the contraction and spread of such diseases. If these remedies worked, there would be no need for vaccines with modern medicines.

More importantly, Turkmen authorities can restrict the movement of their people, but they cannot restrict the movement of birds, small rodents and other desert creatures, or even sheep or cattle that deviate near or over the border into neighboring countries.

And it is already clear that animal diseases are present and are spreading in Turkmenistan, a problem that is exacerbated by the shortage and subsequent high prices of animal feed.

In October, the Turkmen RFE / RL Service, known locally as Azatlyk, reported that the cattle in the province of Mary was dying, apparently due to liver damage. Local veterinarians diagnosed the cause as tuberculosis.

In June, cattle in the southern province of Ahal were dying. Local veterinarians attributes the cause of death to piroplasmosis (Babesia, also known as Texas cattle fever or red tick fever), a parasite that is often transmitted by ticks.

Local veterinarians themselves said that if the disease outbreak had been detected earlier, it would have been possible to stop the spread. This points to a collapse in Turkmenistan's warning systems to identify, isolate and treat outbreaks.

In March, camels in the western Balkan province of Turkmenistan began to die. The authorities said nothing about the cause. local I thought it was smallpox.

Residents of the Balkans believed it was smallpox because in October 2018, the disease hit hard again, killing camels but also spreading to people, several of whom were admitted to hospitals and treated for the virus.

Herds slaughtered

At the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017, cattle and chickens in the northern province of Dashoguz were dying. Local veterinarians said it was probably anthrax, but again, authorities in Ashgabat did not comment on the cause.

There have been other cases related to farm animals in Turkmenistan in the last three years. Sometimes, the owners recognized the imminent disappearance of their flocks and chose to sacrifice the animals and sell the contaminated meat in the bazaars instead of facing a total loss of their livestock.

Turkmenistan has suffered the last four years through an extreme economic crisis that officials have refused to admit publicly. This has resulted in long lines for many food products, so the sudden availability of meat is often difficult for residents to pass through, even if they have doubts about its origins.

According to the Joint External Evaluation for Turkmenistan of June 2016, Turkmenistan has a "comprehensive intersectoral plan" to counteract zoonotic infections that extends from 2016 to 2020, but the report only mentions brucellosis and rabies as the diseases involved.

The Turkmen television council of using Berdymukhammedov's herbal treatments for animals is the equivalent of announcing that the government has no intention of spending money on animal vaccines. It makes Turkmenistan an incubator for zoonotic diseases and threatens herds and, therefore, people, both in neighboring countries and in Turkmenistan.

And the biggest tragedy is that Turkmenistan has the money to pay for vaccines and medicines for animals, as well as for people. The Economist informed in July 2018 that there were at least $ 23 billion in accounts in Germany that belonged to someone in Turkmenistan.

Berdymukhammedov has even ordered a 15-meter high statue of the national dog of Turkmenistan – the alabai – to be built in Ashgabat in June. The money spent on the latter monstrosity for the capital would probably pay for vaccines for many of the farm animals in Turkmenistan.

The absolute disdain that Berdymukhammedov shows towards the people of Turkmenistan could be a source of awe, fun or curiosity for people in neighboring countries, but those countries will soon need to double their health surveillance along the Turkmen border to ensure that their own Farm animals and people do not become victims of the ultimate madness of Arkadag.

The Turkmen RFE / RL service contributed to this report

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