By Shakeh Avoyan
The government approved on Thursday a nine-year plan of actions aimed at boosting the birth rate in Armenia that has declined considerably since the Soviet collapse.
The government said the $8.6 million program, to be completely financed by Western donors, is meant to boost the country’s population also by improving Armenians’ access to health care and promoting a “healthy lifestyle.”
“The program is aimed at boosting the birth rate in the country and creating favorable conditions for healthy childhood and maternity,” said Deputy Health Minister Hayk Darpinian.
Armenia’s population has shrunk considerably since the Soviet collapse as a result of the economically motivated out-migration of hundreds of thousands of its citizens and a decreased birth rate. The latter phenomenon is widely linked with post-Soviet economic hardship, a poor state of public healthcare and expensive medical services.
Giving birth to a child in any maternity hospital is officially free of charge in Armenia. However, this legal provision is rarely enforced in practice due to a well-entrenched system of informal payments commonly levied from the parents of a newborn baby. A single delivery typically involves hundreds of dollars worth of such payments.
Experts believe this is a key reason why even in rural areas of the country, where birth rates have traditionally been higher than in Yerevan and other urban centers, more people now avoid having more than two children. It is not clear how the government will address this phenomenon.
Razmik Abrahamian, director of the Armenian Health Ministry’s Maternity and Gynecology Institute, insisted that the problem is not as serious as it is often portrayed. He claimed that parents must pay only for having separate wards and other “special services” in maternity hospitals.
“In general, delivery is free of charge for socially vulnerable or poor people,” Abrahamian told reporters. “You won’t find a single woman who was not admitted to maternity hospital because she did not have money.”
Darpinian, for his part, said poverty does not necessarily mean fewer children. “Research shows that poor people have more children than the rich,” he said.