Bedside Deliveries in a Pandemic. Turkmen Hospitals Turn Into Marketplaces

Several markets have closed in Turkmenistan because of COVID-19, while others are operating under severe restrictions. The upshot though is that traders are now visiting state institutions, including hospitals, to sell their wares. sources report that it’s open house in medical establishments, where in theory the strictest quarantine measures should be in place. The hawkers sell everything – from foodstuffs to clothes. At the same time, the coronavirus situation in the country is getting worse, according to independent media.

A hospital in Turkmenistan, illustration

“I used to have a pitch at the market, but it’s closed now,” a woman selling clothes at Mary general hospital told a source. “Now they don’t even let us stand with our goods outside the market. That’s why I come here from my village every day.”

Sources say that doctors and nurses are none too keen on this impromptu trading, but do not do anything to stop it. Anyone can walk in to a hospital or clinic. Sometimes medics take advantage of the situation and make the traders give them goods on credit, promising to pay when they receive their salaries. The traders have to accept this, as in theory the hospital staff could drive them out. But the main customers are the patients.

Some patients have to buy samosas, pasties or buns every day, as Turkmen hospitals do not provide food free of charge. Mary general hospital does have a private canteen which charges for food, but its quality leaves much to be desired. Relatives bring food every day to patients at the hospital, but it’s difficult for people from the rural areas to come in every day. There is nowhere to store food, as it gets stolen from the fridge in the corridor, while the bedside lockers have too many cockroaches. Patients even have to pay to heat food in the hospital – one manat to use the microwave. That’s why many patients have to buy pastries from the hawkers, though no one can guarantee that they meet hygiene standards.

Sources think that the battle to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has gone awry. Closing the markets does not mean that the traders and shoppers are sitting in quarantine at home. Trade has moved to the streets, to underground shops, apartments in residential buildings, state institutions, and, finally, hospitals, although in other countries medical establishments are first to impose the strictest quarantine, often banning visits by relatives. People in hospitals, in other words the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, are the most at risk of death from coronavirus.

But the traders should not be blamed either. The people who can afford to observe quarantine are those with savings or who work for reputable institutions able to pay their wages even during an enforced stoppage. Market traders do not fall into either category. They depend on selling goods every day to put food on the table for their families.

Meanwhile, on November 13 at the ceremonial opening of a new rural hospital President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov made a speech about the absence of COVID-19 in the country. Chronicles of Turkmenistan reported that immediately afterwards heads and deputy heads of regional health boards and the chief doctors of infectious disease hospitals held a closed meeting at the Niyazov hospital in Ashgabat. A deputy health minister, who is not named, said that the Ministry of Health is aware of the difficult situation in the provinces. The official announced the measures to be taken concerning the spread of coronavirus, which officially is not present in the country:

  • Infectious disease hospitals should be refurbished out of their own budgets. Beds, mattresses and bed linen should be replaced with new;
  • The Ministry of Health will pay to provide rural hospitals with equipment, medicines, and COVID-19 tests;
  • Rural residents who fall sick with COVID-19 should not be sent to overcrowded regional hospitals. The only exception can be made for patients with the most severe form of the disease;
  • Treatment still has to be paid for, but medicines will be sold at the state price, and the price of a bed must be “affordable”;
  • Mention of COVID-19 in diagnoses and death certificates remains banned; the term “pneumonia” must be used instead. learnt earlier of inspections carried out in several medical establishments in Mary. According to sources, senior officials visited on November 15. Similar inspections are expected in Dashoguz region.

Meanwhile, on November 18 the government newspaper Neytralnyy Turkmenistan published an article about preventing severe respiratory viral infection. It is recommended that citizens wear masks, observe two-meter social distancing, wash hands, ventilate rooms, keep themselves fit, dress according to the season, eat foodstuffs containing vitamin C, and drink broth, fruit juices, and infusions of medicinal herbs.