Authorities in Uzbekistan have restricted the country's doctors from freely traveling abroad to international medical conferences, a think tank in the Central Asian nation said Friday.
Limiting Uzbek doctors' exposure to foreign expertise is likely to further hinder the authoritarian ex-Soviet nation's troubled health care system, which has struggled to deal with outbreaks of HIV and tuberculosis.
The Expert Working Group, an independent think-tank in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, said a recently approved government decree has created strict requirements for medical personnel wishing to leave the country, even if only for personal reasons.
Sukhrobjon Ismoilov of the think tank said the order to limit the movement of medical personnel was in flagrant violation of the country's constitution, which grants Uzbek citizens the right to freely leave the country.
Health workers traveling to medical conferences abroad must provide copies of their speeches to the Health Ministry in advance of departure. The group also said physicians will have to submit a report on their activities overseas to government officials within three days of their return, or risk punitive measures and a travel ban.
Officials at the Uzbek Health Ministry couldn't be reached for comment on the report.
Ismoilov said the new rules were designed to prevent Uzbek medical experts from attending seminars abroad where "authorities have almost no control over them." They also appeared aimed at stopping the steady flow of trained doctors out of Uzbekistan seeking work overseas, Ismoilov said.
Uzbekistan is the only ex-Soviet nation that still makes its citizens obtain exit visas before they can travel abroad — visas that are subject to approval by the country's draconian security services and take a huge amount of time and effort to get.
Health care standards in Uzbekistan are a source of deep concern for international aid organizations, whose operations in the Central Asian nation have been hindered by the government.
Public awareness of health issues is also poor, in part because of the government's tight grip on information in Uzbekistan, where President Islam Karimov has ruled for more than 20 years.
Yevgeny Sklyarevsky, who heads Uzbekistan-based Mirada Software, said Friday the award-winning edoctor.uz online portal faces closure after a Tashkent court ruled it had breached anti-pornography laws by featuring medical terms for male and female genitals.
Last month, Uzbek activist Maxim Popov, who distributed brochures saying condoms and disposable syringes can help prevent HIV, was convicted of corrupting minors by promoting homosexuality, prostitution and drug use. He was sentenced to seven years in jail.
Source: AP Features