Dr. Oral Ataniyazova is an obstetrician who also holds a doctorate in medical science. In 1992 she established Perzent, the Karakalpak Center for Reproductive Health and Environment, in order to help the women and children of Karakalpakstan, an ethnically distinct and autonomous republic of Uzbekistan.
Over the last several decades, the Aral Sea — once one of the world’s largest inland seas — has shrunk to almost half its size. Due to the severity of the pollution in the area, it is believed that its entire population has been exposed to dangerous chemicals over extended periods of time. Public health in the region has deteriorated with the worsening ecological situation. Over the past 20 years, there has been an increase in the rates of anemia, kidney and liver diseases, allergies, tuberculosis, birth defects and reproductive pathologies. Women and children are among those most affected by the Aral Sea crisis
"Perzent" means "progeny" in Karakalpak. For her research, Dr. Ataniyazova studied about 5,000 reproductive-age women in Karakalpakstan. Her findings were so alarming that in 1992 she founded the first Karakalpak women's clinic for reproductive health: the "Marriage and Family" Clinic. In addition to scientific research (e.g. on water quality), family planning and medical assistance, Perzent offers a wide range of educational and community programs that focus on raising public awareness about the region’s environmental and health problems. Most of Ataniyazova’s activities concentrate on women and how they can improve their lives, including family health and the quality of food and water.
Perzent trains local groups in areas such as health and hygiene, sustainable agriculture, as well as women’s and children’s rights. It created the Ecological Club "Shagala" to provide environmental education programmes in rural areas. Together with the Save the Children Fund it started an environmental education program for 5-6 year old children. Additionally, the centre has published brochures and booklets on health and on the relationship between health (particularly reproductive health) and the environment, and maintains an environmental library open to the public.
With branches in several rural districts, Perzent has created a 50-acre organic farm, a women’s clinic and a publishing house. To fully involve the local people, Perzent actively solicits ideas from communities for practical solutions to the region’s problems. More than 10,000 people have been involved in the organization’s activities.
Ataniyazova has worked on these issues at the national, regional and international levels. As an expert in reproductive health, she has been a key spokesperson addressing various international agencies, including the United Nations. Despite many difficulties during the past two decades, Ataniyazova has helped improve the health and status of women and children in one of the world’s most dramatic ecological hot spots. Undaunted, she continues to speak out about the crisis that is destroying the lives of her patients and the future of their communities. Oral Ataniyazova was honoured with the Goldmann Prize in 2000.