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By Maria Golovnina
SHYMKENT, Kazakhstan, June 27 (Reuters) - A Kazakh court jailed more than a dozen health workers on Wednesday for infecting 78 babies with HIV/AIDS but provoked parents’ outrage for sparing senior officials.
Ten babies have died as a result of being infected.
A group of medical workers went on trial in the southern city of Shymkent in January on charges of criminal negligence for allowing the children to be infected, mainly through blood transfusions in hospitals.
Campaigners accuse the oil-producing former Soviet state of doing too little to improve hospitals, raise medical standards and root out discrimination against HIV-positive patients.
In a Soviet-style courtroom adorned with a portrait of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, relatives shouted "They deserve death!" after the judge gave suspended sentences to senior health official Nursulu Tasmagambetova, among others.
"This is not what I call justice," said Kanat Alseitov, whose son was among the infected children. "I didn’t think it would be this way. Those who got suspended sentences are the most senior ones and thus most responsible for all this."
Most defendants — doctors and health officials — received jail sentences ranging from a few months to eight years.
After the verdict, the relatives, mostly headscarved women in traditional colourful clothes, scuffled with police shouting "Death!" and "What for?" as those convicted looked on.
Some fell to the floor in fits of extreme emotion. A court doctor took the pulse of a woman in her 30s who seemed unconscious. Relatives threw stones and plastic bottles at a police van that drove the convicted people away.
The case has exposed the vulnerability of HIV patients in Kazakhstan, where the World Bank says the number of registered cases has almost doubled every year since 2000. As the trial went on, the number of infected babies rose to 118.
Judge Ziyadinkhan Pirniyaz listed evidence of negligence, theft of health funds and the abuse of patients. He said many babies received transfusions without their parents’ consent.
The victims’ lawyers said they would appeal against the decision.
The relatives, most of whom did not want to give their names for fear of stigma, described sparing senior officials jail terms — including Tasmagambetova, the sister of the powerful mayor of the financial capital Almaty — as a slap in the face.
They said state healthcare payments were not enough for them to provide for the future of their HIV-infected children.
"I think the court had its own intentions," Alseitov said. "For such violations, criminals must get much more serious sentences."