Seven-year-old Azamat is playing with his siblings at home in a village in southern Kazakhstan, tumbling around on the sofa and giggling. His parents would have found it hard to picture the scene six years ago, when they first learned that their son was HIV-positive.
Azamat was among roughly 150 children caught up in one of independent Kazakhstan’s largest public health scandals. Back in 2006, the children were infected with HIV via tainted blood transfusions administered at public hospitals in Shymkent in the South Kazakhstan Region. The infections peeled back the curtain on a public health-care system that was corruption-ridden, and in which disposable syringes were reused, and blood sold for personal profit. (The names of children and parents in this story have been changed to protect their privacy).
When they learned Azamat, only eight months old at the time, had been infected his parents were “in hysterics,” recalled his mother, Aynur. Such was the lack of information about HIV that, she told EurasiaNet.org, doctors offered the advice: “Eat apples.”
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.