Friday, August 14, 2015

Many Central Asian Gastarbeiters Return from Russia with HIV/AIDS, Sparking Epidemic

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 14 – Central Asian gastarbeiters are helping to keep the economies of their homelands afloat with still-massive cash transfers from their workplaces in Russia, but some of them are bringing back something far less welcome when they return home: They have become infected with HIV/AIDS in Russia and are adding to an epidemic in Central Asia.

            According to official Uzbekistan statistics which on issues like this dramatically understate, sometimes by an order of magnitude of more, there were 4236 new cases of HIV infection in that Central Asian country last year, 55.4 percent of which were men and 44.6 percent were women (

            During the first ten months of 2014, among those returning from work abroad, most in Russia, there were 531 new cases of HIV infection, almost twice as many as there had been among a roughly similar number of returning gastarbeiters in 2012 when 272 were found to be infected.

            Of the newly registered HIV infected returning gastarbeiters in 2014, 88.5 percent were infected by sexual contact. An earlier investigation in 2013 found that 17.4 percent of all gastarbeiters had sexual contacts with prostitutes during their period abroad, and 6.5 percent had them in Uzbekistan.

            Uzbek officials blame the rise in HIV/AIDS cases on the returning gastarbeiters in order to minimize Tashkent’s responsibilities. According to Fergana News, there are many factors within Uzbekistan that contribute to the spread of the disease: “a low standard of living, unemployment, the growth of corruption, and official neglect of social problems,” all of which contribute to “the growth of the epidemic.”

            Among the worst of these problems with regard to the spread of HIV/AIDS are the conditions under which internal migrants to Tashkent and other Uzbek cities are forced to live, conditions which drive them into illegal activity and often lead them to make use of prostitutes as well.

            Officials make it difficult for young people coming into the cities to get residence permits, fail to provide them with adequate housing and services and then are surprised at what goes on among them, including the kind of activities which promote the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS.

            Thus, “internal migration in Uzbekistan may be one of the main factors of the spread of HIV infections and other diseases transmitted by sexual contact. But instead of recognizing this fact, Fergana News says, “it is trying to avoid responsibility for the spread of HIV within the country by shifting the blame to the returning of labor migrants from abroad.”

            That is almost certainly true as far as the intentions of Uzbek officials are concerned, but the extent to which former gastarbeiters in Russia are an important source of new infections cannot be denied – and is likely to be a new source of tensions between Uzbeks and Russians and between Tashkent and Moscow.

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