By Shakeh Avoyan
The government approved on Thursday a new nine-year plan of actions aimed at combating a dramatic spread of tuberculosis in Armenia that has been registered over the past decade.
Its adoption followed the completion of a similar drive launched by the government three years ago. Officials said the latest “national program” against the potentially deadly disease will also be mostly financed by foreign donors.
“This program will run from 2007 through 2015,” said Vahan Poghosian, a senior Armenian Health Ministry official coordinating the anti-TB campaign. “It will involve training courses [for medical personnel], purchase of laboratory equipment and, most importantly, medicines.”
Armenian medical authorities have reported a sharp increase in the incidence of the disease since the early 1990s, attributing it to malnutrition and a lack of winter heating. According to the Health Ministry, the number of people suffering from tuberculosis rose by 18 percent to almost 6,500 between 2000 and 2005. Officials there admit that the real number is probably much higher because the authorities are unable to register all infected people, who are usually poor and can not afford healthcare.
The ministry data show that more than 100 people died of TB in 2003. Poghosian declined to disclose the death toll for 2004 and 2005, concentrating instead on government efforts to tackle the problem. He said medical authorities are now much better equipped to quickly detect and treat cases of TB than they were before the launch of the first government program worth $5 million.
It was not immediately clear how much the Armenian government plans to spend on its the latest program adopted by ministers at a weekly cabinet meeting. Officials said only that much of the funding for, $7.5 million, will come from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The government of Germany, for its part, will contribute almost $3 million to the effort.
In Poghosian’s words, the donor funding will enable his ministry to continue to supply patients with expensive TB drugs free of charge in the years to come. “Anti-TB drugs is not and will not be a problem in the Republic of Armenia until 2011,” he told reporters. Treatment of a person infected with the disease costs at least $12,000, he said.
Also helping Armenia combat the disease is the renowned French relief agency Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF). It unveiled in December 2004 a $3.8 million program that has primarily targeted the more severe “multi-resistant” form of tuberculosis (MDR-TB) which can not be cured with traditional methods. MSF estimated at the time that MDR-TB accounts for 15 percent of new TB cases identified in the country.