A few weeks ago, the leader of Turkmenistan, Saparmyrat Niyazov, announced a plan to shut all the hospitals in the country outside the capital — not that you would have noticed in the British media or the blogosphere.

That was bad news for a country where the health situation, it turns out, is already pretty abysmal.

According to a new study by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, life expectancy in Turkmenistan is just 62 years, the lowest of any country in Europe or Central Asia.

The BBC reports:

President Saparmyrat Niyazov has shut nearly all higher education facilities, effectively stopping the training of new doctors and nurses.

In addition, his other decisions have had a major impact: closing all hospitals outside the capital, abolishing free health care and firing 15,000 health care workers in just one day and replacing them with army conscripts.

The international community must act now, the scientists say, to make the government improve health care access and stop human rights violations that are increasing public health problems.

(Hat tip: GA)