In his office, Ozbek Azhi Chotonov, head of the Bishkek-based Islamic think tank Source of the Truth, plays a news clip about the hospitalization of a young girl in neighboring Kazakhstan after a bad reaction to a vaccine. For him, the report constitutes Exhibit A as to why vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they are designed to prevent.
All but declared dead a few years ago, measles is back in Kyrgyzstan -- and God is largely to blame.
"We live according to Shari'a law," says Bakhtiar Berdikojoev of Ak-Terek, a village in the northern region of Issyk-Kul. "And in our life God orders happiness and sorrow, celebration, death, and risks."
Nights are quiet now on Pravda Street. Only a few older women are to be found in Bishkek’s notorious red-light district. They are the mamochki – elsewhere known as “madams,” female pimps. The girls are hidden away, often in taxis parked next to the road.
This summer, Vitaly Korolkov, 38, was homeless, HIV-positive, and a recovering heroin addict. He began methadone treatment the last time he got out of prison, three years ago, because, as he put it, “I just want to live, don’t know how much time I have left.”
For Nurlan Kenenov’s three-year-old daughter, the symptoms started with yellowing eyes. Then a fever set in. Fortunately, she got well on her own, but now his nephew is in the hospital, fighting hepatitis. “There were at least 20 children” there when they checked him in, Kenenov said. “Many more had been there before we arrived.”
A curious debate involving individual rights and the limits of state authority is unfolding in Kyrgyzstan. International donors and local policy makers are wrestling with the idea of whether Bishkek can compel people with tuberculosis to receive treatment – even if they don’t seek it.