Saturday, June 18, 2005

Ishkan is Dead

Today, a fifty one year old man was buried. Sick with Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (TB), he had been in and out of the Abovian TB Dispensary since god knows when. Although the law says that TB is treated free of charge, nothing is ever that simple in Armenia. At most hospitals, including in the capital, even if you shouldn't have to pay, most of the time you generally do -- for syringes, medication, informal payments to doctors and nurses, for any kind of treatment -- you name it.

Ishkan, Nor Kharberd, Ararat Region, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian

In the case of MDR TB you would have thought that the priority would be to treat the patient rather than making it all dependent on whether you have money or not, especially as those with the disease or the poorest in the country and the disease spreads if treatment is not completed. Hardly surprising, therefore, that Ishkan died but not before his nephew was also diagnozed with TB.

In 2004, I took Edik Baghdasarian of Hetq Online to meet Ishkan. The investigative journalist wrote an article but as Ishkan was frightened of what would happen if anyone found out, Edik changed his name and I made sure that his face was obscured by shadow in the photograph above. That didn't work, however, and before we knew it, Ishkan had apparently been forced to write a "confession" by someone in the health authorities.

He hd been told to write that Edik and I promised to take him to Germany for treatment if he criticized the system in place for treating TB in Armenia and accused them of corruption.
“But if there is no drugs, why is it so good? They signed out the drugs in my name, but I didn't get them—I bought most of them. It cost me 180,000 drams. How am I supposed to pay? I have been sick for twelve years and haven't worked in all those years."
Well, it probably doesn't matter. Like another TB victim in Yerevan who was also unable to receive proper treatment in Abovian (although the reasons for this are still uncertain), Ishkan died two days ago even though the government has signed an agreement with MSF-France to start a massive multi-million dollar programme to tackle MDR-TB in Armenia. However, the agreement should have been signed towards the end of last year but for some reason was delayed by the MoH until a month or so ago. Nice one.

In the meantime, despite what the law says about the government's responsibility towards its citizens, my wife is currently collecting money from friends and relatives to pay for the cost of treatment for Ishkan's nephew that should be free but isn't because the state budget can't meet the needs of the country. Tax the oligarchs and maybe even prosecute officials for corruption and perhaps one day it could. Unfortunately, however, there is no political will at the highest levels of the government to do so.

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