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Kyrgyzstan: Breastfeeding Babies Infected With HIV in Kyrgyz Hospitals Pass Virus to Their Mothers

April 10, 2008

In a dramatic rise from previous figures, Kyrgyz health officials said Wednesday a total of 72 children were infected with HIV at two hospitals in the country's southern region, along with 16 mothers. Earlier tallies had put the numbers at 41 children and six mothers. Health Minister Marat Mambetov said Tuesday that the infections, which began in the summer of 2006, had been contained.

Investigators believe the children's infections stem from tainted blood and the multiple use of needles at hospitals in Osh and Nookat. Last month, charges were filed against 14 medical personnel accused of negligence in administering injections and blood transfusions.

In some cases, the mothers were likely infected while breastfeeding their infants, said Uchkun Karimov, the prosecutor overseeing the case. While infection through nursing from child to mother is unusual, it is possible, AIDS experts say.

The HIV-positive children are receiving antiretroviral treatment, though the infected mothers are not. Erkin Bakiyev, deputy director of the national AIDS center, said the mothers are not entitled to the drugs if they are in the first clinical stages of infection. Many in this impoverished Central Asian nation cannot afford to buy the drugs themselves.

"These women are having huge financial difficulties," said Fatima Koshokova, director of the nongovernmental group Rainbow, which provides free legal assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS.

"The husbands of many of these women leave when they learn the diagnosis, and these women are left alone with their grief," said Fatima Khabibullina, a Rainbow lawyer. Many do not qualify for welfare since they are legally married. Their HIV-infected children are entitled to 840 soms (US $23) monthly, a pittance even for Kyrgyzstan.

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Excerpted from:
Associated Press
04.09.2008; Leila Saralayeva

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