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Three Days Without Unprotected Sex -- A Rule, Not The Norm For Returning Tajik Migrants

"A health check-up is always a good idea," said Avaz Boronov, who works in St. Petersburg.
"A health check-up is always a good idea," said Avaz Boronov, who works in St. Petersburg.

Tajikistan is set to take strict new measures to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD) that many believe have been brought to the country primarily by labor migrants returning from Russia.

One new measure involves setting up medical booths at entry points -- including airports -- so blood samples can be drawn from returning migrants.

The migrants are to then be given free condoms and official instructions to not have unprotected sex for three days until the test results are in.

"The migrants would be allowed to enter the country only after taking a blood test. Only then can they go home to their spouses and children," said Usmonali Latifov, a spokesman for the Labor and Migration Ministry, the organization behind the initiative.

The tests -- which apart from HIV/AIDS and STDs also cover tuberculosis -- are quick, easy, and free of charge, Latifov told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on June 5.

Those who get the all-clear are not required to take further steps, while the individuals whose test results come back positive would be called in for further medical checks.

Importing Disease

Tajikistan has made it mandatory for tuberculosis patients to seek medical treatment at specialized facilities to prevent the spread of the disease.

HIV/AIDS patients are required by law to register with health authorities, who inform the patients' sexual partners of their health status.

Tajikistan offers free medical treatment for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS patients in state-owned facilities that include consultations both for the patients and their family members. HIV/AIDS patients also have access to free counseling by qualified professionals.

The compulsory blood-test initiative comes after the Health Ministry said in 2017 that blood tests conducted on 15,000 returning migrants the previous year revealed that 165 of them, including 14 women, were HIV-positive.

According to the ministry, it was determined that more than 90 percent of them contracted the potentially deadly virus through unprotected sex.

Tajik health officials say that all the mothers who have been registered as HIV-positive and who have never been outside the country are married to migrant workers who contracted the virus in Russia.

Tajikistan depends heavily on remittances sent home by seasonal labor migrants, and Russia is the primary destination. Hundreds of thousands of Tajiks, most of them aged between 18 and mid-40s, travel to Russia each year for work.

Can It Help?

A national program focusing on the years 2017-2020 was established to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS. There are some 9,000 officially registered HIV-positive patients in the country of more than 8 million, although health authorities fear that the real figures could be higher. Most Tajiks simply don't do regular medical check-ups.

An official from the Sughd provincial department for labor and migration told RFE/RL that authorities see no choice but to start mandatory blood tests with labor migrants to protect their families and society at large.

"The migrants -- regardless of their gender -- will be told not to have unprotected sex until authorities contact them within three days to inform the blood test results," the official said under condition of anonymity, as he wasn't authorized to speak to media.

It remains unclear, however, how authorities will oversee compliance with the order. And it's not yet known if the tests will apply only to Tajik migrants returning from Russia, or from other countries as well.

Their status as migrants would be determined from obligatory entry forms Tajik citizens are required to fill in before entering the country.

The compulsory blood tests are expected to begin later this year, although the exact date hasn't been announced.

One Tajik migrant worker in Russia welcomed the decision as a "good thing for everyone, including the migrants themselves."

"A health check-up is always a good idea," said Avaz Boronov, who works in St. Petersburg.

However, given the spread of corruption culture in the country, Boronov said he hopes "it won't turn into just another bribery avenue for officials and those who want to avoid a blood test."

Written by Farangis Najibullah with interviews conducted by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Mumin Ahmadi

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.


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    Mumin Ahmadi

    Mumin Ahmadi is a correspondent for RFE/RL's Tajik Service.