By Hrach Melkumian
The Armenian government moved on Saturday to settle its notoriously long-standing debts to state-run hospitals and policlinics, many of which for months have been unable to pay their personnel.
Ministers decided to divert 1.65 billion drams ($2.9 million) in budgetary funds to public health care after growing protests from doctors and other medical personnel. Some of them have gone on strike recently to demand payment of their back wages.
A government statement said the money will go to repay the debt that has accumulated over the past several years. But it did not specify its total amount, and it was not clear whether disbursed sum will eliminate all wage arrears in the health sector.
Armenian governments have spent an average of $30 million on health care each year for the past decade. The modest sum is nowhere near enough to meet the sector’s basic needs. Nor has the state put in place a medical insurance system covering the entire population. As a result, patients have to pay for most medical services, something which many Armenians cannot afford.
The chronic delays in government funding have also hampered services that are supposedly subsidized by the state and free of charge.