70 new HIV cases found in Kyrgyz children

Health officials in Kyrgyzstan say they have diagnosed 70 new cases of HIV among children during a widespread check following a scandal over transmission of the virus in hospitals.

The Health Ministry said in a statement late Thursday that more than 110,000 children born between 2004 and 2009 in the Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces have been screened since last year.

More than a dozen hospital workers were charged with negligence leading to the transmission of the HIV virus to almost 200 children in that southern region over the six-year period. Six have been convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.

The health care system in this economically struggling former Soviet nation is desperately underfunded, staff is poorly trained and basic medical supplies are scarce.

"The children with a confirmed diagnosis receive additional treatment. They are under constant medical control and are getting the required antiretroviral drugs," said Zhyldyz Kurmanaliyeva, director general of the government's National AIDS Association.

Almost two-fifths of the children in Osh, the country's second-largest city, and the surrounding region have yet to be screened, which raises the prospect of the numbers of diagnosed HIV carriers growing further.

In December, UNICEF warned against rushing to punish individual health workers for the HIV outbreak.

"It may not be a failure of a particular doctor or nurse, but rather a failure of the health care system as a whole to provide hospitals with the essential equipment required to prevent transmission of HIV infection," UNICEF said in a statement.

UNICEF also noted that an assessment by international organizations -- including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the World Bank and John Snow International -- revealed no evidence that health care workers had intentionally infected children.