Tajikistan is a Central Asian country landlocked between Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and Uzbekistan. It is among the most impoverished countries in the world, with 26.3% of its population living below the poverty line in 2019. This high poverty rate persists as a consequence of modern political instability and a civil war that erupted after its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Since the Tajikistani Civil War, the national poverty rate has shrunk as the country recovered, but the impact of COVID-19 in Tajikistan has added to the financial stressors that many citizens face.
5 Facts About the Impact of COVID-19 in Tajikistan
- The Numbers: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Tajikistan reported 17,493 COVID-19 cases from Jan. 3, 2020, to Jan. 21, 2022. From Jan. 18, 2021, to June 21, 2021, there were no reports of new cases in the nation. On Jan. 26, 2021, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon claimed that the country was “without COVID-19” in an address to parliament, asserting that the nation noted “no new cases” in the month of January. However, the Ministry of Health did in fact report new cases in January, a fact backed up by WHO data. The disease continued to spread for a few months longer, with the last new cases occurring on Sept. 13, 2021. Out of all the nation’s total confirmed cases, Tajikistan notes 125 deaths.
- Vaccines: In July 2021, Tajikistan made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all citizens of at least 18 years old. As of Jan. 2, 2022, Tajikistan has administered a total of 6.8 million doses, allowing for the full vaccination of roughly 3 million citizens, equating to 31.27% of Tajikistan’s overall population. In order to increase its overall vaccination rate, authorities aim “to expand their communication activities to address vaccine hesitancy and misinformation” related to the COVID-19 vaccine with the support of the World Bank.
- Remittances: The influx of remittances to Tajikistan fell at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many citizens choose to leave the country to earn an income as migrant workers and send money back to their family members back in Tajikistan. In fact, “Tajikistan is one of the most remittance-dependent countries in the world,” with this form of monetary exchange accounting for around 28% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018. However, the value of remittances fell in the wake of COVID-19 to 26% in 2020. Economic crises and travel restrictions led to fewer remittances, especially due to the stringent regulations in Russia and other nearby countries where Tajikistani migrants often seek work. As a result, during the first half of 2020, remittances shrunk by close to 15% ($195 million) in comparison to the first half of 2019. In conjuncture with the other impacts of COVID-19 in Tajikistan, like the rising prices of agricultural goods, this fall in household income served to exacerbate poverty and heighten food insecurity in Tajikistan, with 33% of households reporting “reduced food consumption” as of August 2021.
- U.S. Foreign Aid: Responding to the negative effects of the pandemic, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supplied significant amounts of aid to Tajikistan, including “1.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine” in July 2021 and “325,260 doses of the Pfizer vaccine” in September 2021. In addition, USAID efforts include significant assistance to bolster Tajikistan’s health care systems and the capacity of its medical labs, public health outreach programs and community engagement. By March 2021, USAID had provided more than $10 million in aid to strengthen the country’s health care system and mitigate the financial impacts of COVID-19 in Tajikistan. Furthermore, as COVID-19 “disrupted import/export transport,” USAID has “launched an online freight portal” to help traders communicate and also created “a hotline to help traders and exporters locate the latest information about new import and transit procedures.”
- International Aid: Tajikistan also received support from other countries and international organizations. On Dec. 22, 2021, the World Bank approved a grant adding $25 million to the Tajikistan Emergency COVID-19 Project. The money will go to necessary medical resources, such as safety boxes, personal protective equipment, COVID-19 tests, vaccine cards and other supplies. The grant will also cover the cost of vaccine distribution and official communication efforts to combat medical misinformation.
Although the impact of COVID-19 in Tajikistan will likely continue to affect the nation’s economy, the country has not noted any new COVID-19 cases since 2021. Currently, COVID-19 cases remain under control despite concerns over the newly emerging Omicron variant. International organizations are continuing their efforts to improve Tajikistan’s economic resilience and strengthen its health sector. As a result of diminishing cases and international assistance, experts predict that the economy will continue to grow throughout 2022 despite ongoing challenges.
– Lauren Sung
Photo: Wikimedia Commons