An AIDS outbreak at two children's hospitals in Uzbekistan has killed at least 14 children and left 133 infected with HIV, according to a documentary posted on a respected Central Asian news Web site on Monday.
The editor of Ferghana.ru said the 2007 outbreak was first reported in an official documentary produced by Uzbek prosecutors for government television.
But, he said, the video never aired because authorities had second thoughts about broadcasting it, fearing that it would provoke a public outcry and unfavorable international publicity.
The documentary posted on Ferghana.ru reported that 12 doctors and nurses at two hospitals in the eastern city of Namangan were convicted of treating the children with contaminated medical equipment.
According to the narrator, the health workers were sentenced to prison terms of from five years to eight years and eight months.
Uzbek officials, including prosecutors, did not return repeated phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The AP could not verify the authenticity of the documentary, which would be the first official confirmation of the long-rumored outbreak, but a former Uzbek television producer said it appeared authentic.
Daniil Kislov, editor of Ferghana.ru, said his site obtained the video from an Uzbek health official after authorities canceled plans to broadcast it.
Government officials keep a tight grip on the media in Uzbekistan, where President Islam Karimov has ruled for more than 20 years.
Several outbreaks of hospital-transmitted HIV have been reported among children in Central Asia in recent years. Doctors in the region have sometimes prescribed transfusions for routine illnesses.
Similar incidents in Kazakhstan in 2006 and Kyrgyzstan in 2007 left dozens of children infected.
The Uzbek documentary shows a series of men and women, identified as health workers, confessing and saying they deserved harsh sentences. All the interviewees spoke into a microphone with the logo of Uzbek state television.
"I am 1,000 times sorry," one of the nurses said through tears. "I would not want a single nurse or doctor to repeat those mistakes."
There are also interviews with the mothers of some of the infected children, as well as with a prosecutor.
Ferghana.ru first reported the HIV outbreak in Namangan in October 2007, but at the time officials denied that it had occurred.
Kislov said the video was produced in January 2009, and was obtained from a Health Ministry official who demanded anonymity because he feared persecution by authorities.
"This is a genuine product of Uzbek television," said Alisher Komolov, who worked for the Yoshlar television channel until he left the country in 2006. "The editing layout, the choice of words and the overall denunciatory tone resemble other propaganda videos, especially the ones on Andijan."
In 2005 government troops killed hundreds of mostly peaceful protester sin the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, according to eyewitnesses and human rights groups. Authorities said fewer than 200 died and blamed the violence on Islamic militants.
Uzbek television showed several documentaries that supported the official viewpoint and slammed Western non-governmental organizations and reporters for allegedly funding the uprising and providing biased coverage.
The United Nations says Uzbekistan has one of the world's fastest-rising HIV infection rates. About 16,000 cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in 2009 — more than an eleven-fold increase from 1,400 cases in 2001, a World Health Organization report said.
For many in this predominantly Muslim nation of 27 million, HIV and AIDS are taboo subjects. At the same time, infection rates are rising due to a sharp deterioration in medical services, as well as a growth of intravenous drug use and sexually transmitted diseases since the 1991 Soviet collapse.
Kislov said the video could not have been made without government cooperation, calling the documentary's style "typical" of Uzbek state television.
"It glorifies the country's leaders and law enforcement agencies and degrades the hand-picked scapegoats," he said.
In late February, 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.