By Nane Atshemian
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), a renowned French relief agency, unveiled on Wednesday a $3.8 program to help Armenia fight tuberculosis which is believed to have spread dramatically over the past decade.
MFS officials said the four-year effort will focus on tackling the so-called “multi-resistant tuberculosis” (MDR-TB) -- a new, more severe form of the potentially deadly disease. Traditional methods of treatment have proved ineffective against it.
“In resource-poor countries like Armenia it is impossible to cure people infected with multi-resistant tuberculosis. That is why we have decided to embark on the implementation of this program,” the head of the MSF office in Yerevan, Christian Ferrier, told journalists, presenting the program together with Armenian healthcare officials.
Ferrier said the French charity will supply new anti-TB drugs and help two policlinics in Yerevan detect and treat the disease.
“Multi-resistant forms of tuberculosis, which already exist in the country, are very dangerous,” said Armen Soghoyan, head of the Yerevan municipality’s health department. “If no necessary measures are taken on time, they could spread further.”
MSF estimates that at least 15 percent of new TB cases identified in Armenia are of the multi-resistant form. “Today MDR-TB patients are not treated adequately in Armenia,” it said in a statement earlier this week.
The new program will complement a three-year anti-TB plan of action which the Armenian government approved in December 2003, citing a major increase in the number of people infected with the disease. Government officials attribute it to widespread malnutrition and a lack of heating in the winter. More than 100 people died of TB last year, according to the Health Ministry.
The government program is worth $5 million and will mostly be financed by the German government and the International Committee of Red Cross. A Healthy Ministry task force in charge of its implementation has registered about 6,000 cases in Armenia. However, officials there admit that the real figure is higher as the authorities are unable to register all infected people who are usually poor and can not afford healthcare.
In one such case, an RFE/RL reporter stumbled this summer on a single woman facing starvation in a rundown residential complex in Yerevan and alerted medical authorities. Zarik Hakobian, 44, was examined by doctors and diagnosed with tuberculosis. Hakobian, who may have also suffered from a mental illness, was thrice forcibly taken to a special TB clinic in the nearby town of Abovian only to return home the next day. She said she was not properly looked after at the hospital. Government officials denied the claims.
The appallingly gaunt woman died in her room last month.