Page last updated at 16:42 GMT, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Uzbek children in 'HIV outbreak'

By Martin Vennard
BBC News

Infected Kazakh child and his mother
Children in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have also been affected

More than 40 young children have been infected with HIV at a hospital in Uzbekistan, officials have said.

Health authorities told the BBC that an investigation into the infections of the mainly new-born babies was taking place in the eastern town of Namangan.

The United Nations says Central Asia has one of the world's fastest-growing HIV infection rates.

Unsafe blood supplies and contaminated equipment are often blamed for spreading the infection.

Stigma and secrecy

The infections in Uzbekistan are just the latest case of mass contamination in a health facility in the region.

Map of Uzbekistan
In August, a court in Kyrgyzstan convicted nine medical workers of infecting 24 children with HIV, while last year 21 medical workers in Kazakhstan were found guilty of infecting dozens of babies.

The staff concerned pleaded not guilty, saying poor hygiene conditions were to blame.

The Uzbek cases were discovered in October, and have reportedly been referred to prosecutors.

But they have not been reported in the local media, which is tightly controlled by the government.

The officials who spoke to the BBC's Uzbek service were only prepared to comment on condition of anonymity.

Aid workers say the stigma surrounding HIV/Aids and the atmosphere of secrecy means that many outbreaks of hospital-acquired infection do not get reported.

In July this year, Jimmy Kolker, a senior UN official on HIV/Aids, called on Central Asian governments to record and share their information on cases.

He was speaking at a meeting in Uzbekistan, which was discussing how to tackle a regional epidemic of HIV among women and children.

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