Turkmenistan has not reported any confirmed COVID-19 cases to WHO to date, but the country recently activated measures to prevent the transmission of respiratory infections within communities, including at mass gatherings, markets, shops and on public transport.
At the end of a 10-day mission to Turkmenistan with a team of WHO/Europe experts, team lead Dr Catherine Smallwood recognized the new measures put in place. The experts recommended that the country further activate the critical public health measures that are the cornerstones of a response to COVID-19: testing all suspect cases, tracing their contacts, and isolating and caring for the sick.
WHO provides expertise and protective supplies
The WHO/Europe team arrived in Turkmenistan’s second-largest city, Turkmenabat, on 6 July following the Government’s request to help with COVID-19 preparedness and response. The trip involved complex logistical challenges, and national authorities made arrangements for the team to reach the country.
A WHO shipment of essential protective supplies for health-care workers, including face shields, protective goggles, isolation gowns and surgical masks, arrived in the country shortly afterwards.
The team visited hospitals, health centres, laboratories and 4 border crossings, including the international seaport in Turkmenbashi. The hospitals were furnished with good infrastructure and equipment, and the team did not see high bed occupancy rates in any of the facilities, nor a significant number of patients with respiratory diseases.
“They recognize the risks currently posed by the virus to the people and are making efforts to get ready to respond to COVID-19 transmission in the country,” observed Dr Smallwood.
Need to scale up surveillance and testing
Dr Smallwood expressed concern about reports of an increased number of cases of acute respiratory infection and pneumonia. She recommended that the country scale up surveillance and testing systems and send samples to WHO reference laboratories for confirmatory testing, as many other European countries have done.
Under the International Health Regulations (2005), all countries must report any unusual or unexpected public health events to WHO, regardless of their origin or source. While reporting confirmed COVID-19 cases is the responsibility of Turkmenistan’s Government, the expert team’s recommendation was to act immediately as if COVID-19 was circulating.
“Turkmenistan’s health system should be strengthened across the entire country, activating contingency plans to enable the country’s health infrastructure to cope with any rapid surge in cases,” Dr Smallwood explained. She highlighted the need for health workers to be fully protected and trained on an ongoing basis.