The whole world, and the Central Asian region in particular, continues to struggle with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which have had a serious impact on the health care and socio-economic sphere of the countries of the region. Everyone is just beginning to recover from the legacy of a global epidemic, and experts are already warning that the incidence of new infectious diseases has skyrocketed. And that means the next pandemic could come sooner than we think.
Central Asia, however, is particularly vulnerable to new outbreaks of infectious diseases due to its geographic location at the crossroads of the world’s production and trade routes, as well as many migratory routes for wild animals, carriers of plague and other infections. A complicating factor is the lack of readiness of the health systems of individual countries in the region to combat these diseases due to lack of resources, insufficient training of staff and weak infrastructure. In this context, cooperation between the countries of Central Asia in matters of sanitary and epidemiological control is becoming more important than ever.
One of the most dangerous infections that can threaten the region, despite its seeming “medieval” is the plague. Plague is still one of the most dangerous diseases that man has ever encountered. The emergence of effective vaccinations, the latest antibiotics, a decrease in the activity of most of the natural foci of plague and a general decrease in the incidence in the world have led to relative calm among the population, and the medical specialists and epidemiological services regarding this dangerous infection. But, so far, we do not have reliable information about what could have caused the three terrible plague pandemics that claimed a huge number of lives and paralyzed the economies of many countries for a long time.
Many scientists suggest that the beginning of these pandemics was related to Central Asia, and that it was in this region that the plague microbe first appeared. At least this is the conclusion reached last year by researchers from the Scottish University of Stirling and the German University of Tübingen and the Institute of Physics of the Max Planck Society. They analyzed teeth from burials near Lake Issyk-Kul and found that the first outbreak of the plague occurred on the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan in the 1330s.
The authorities of the republic questioned the results of the research, and the BBC article, which talked about this study, was called “custom-made” in the Kyrgyz Ministry of Health. People in Kyrgyzstan do not like to talk about “plague” risks. The most recent case of this infection in the region is not often remembered here either. In 2013, a 15-year-old teenager from the Issyk-Kul region of Kyrgyzstan died of bubonic plague.
The reluctance to talk about it is understandable. The situation with sanitary and epidemiological protection in Kyrgyzstan is not simple. There are problems with financing the sphere, equipment and personnel. This endangers the collective health of not only the population of the country, but of the entire region, for the reasons described above.
In this regard, it is important to establish bridges of cooperation in the field of biological safety with other states. This will make it possible to adopt practices, conduct joint scientific research, train personnel, organize joint work on tracking possible foci of infection and create common protocols and procedures for responding to epidemics.
For example, in neighboring Kazakhstan, where more than 40% of the territory is natural-focal for plague, in contrast, in the last decade, significant efforts have been made to prevent infection, due to which not a single case of infection has been recorded there. A separate anti-plague service and a national scientific center for especially dangerous infections are actively working in this country. And in the south of the country, just closer to the borders with neighbors, it is planned to build a new laboratory according to advanced international standards.
A special approach to biosecurity issues and sufficient funding for this area allowed Kazakhstan to become the only country in Central Asia that was able to develop its own vaccine against coronavirus. The vaccine, called QazVac, was developed by a Kazakh scientific institute and successfully passed clinical trials. QazVac allowed Kazakhstan to become more independent from vaccine imports and contributed to the development of an innovative base.
Such an example of cooperation can be useful for other Central Asian countries as well. If the republics of the region join forces in this direction, they will be able to be more prepared for possible outbreaks of infectious diseases and, thus, reduce the risks to public health and the socio-economic stability of the region.
It is important to remember that diseases know no borders, the coronavirus pandemic has clearly shown this. In our time of globalization, the spread of viruses and infections can occur at an incredible rate.
Therefore, in matters of health, cooperation and cooperation are not only desirable, they are necessary. /// nCa, 19 May 2023