Couples with infertility in Armenia will not be able to benefit from a major state-funded reproductive health program next year after the government has excluded it from the 2018 state budget, casting doubts on its cost efficiency.
Artificial fertility is an expensive medical treatment and procedure that most families in Armenia cannot afford. In 2015, the government decided to help couples who cannot conceive a child otherwise by covering the costs of the treatment.
Initially, 35 couples were chosen as beneficiaries of the program and 50 million drams (over $100,000) were earmarked to finance it.
Speaking during budget discussions in the National Assembly last week, Health Minister Levon Altunian suggested that on the average 12 million drams (some $25,000) were spent for one child that was eventually born under that program.
“We have numerous other programs that are more effective for infertility treatment and these programs are now being considered,” the minister said.
Another reason for the suspension of the program, according to the official, is difficulties in objectively assessing the couples that really need it. “As soon as we can apply some principles of an objective approach, we will think about restarting this program,” Altunian promised.
In response to an RFE/RL Armenian Service inquiry the Armenian Ministry of Health said that in the period of 2016-2017, eight children were born under the state-assisted program of artificial fertilization. Another woman who has benefited from the program is currently pregnant. Data received from three Yerevan hospitals involved in the program shows, however, that during the same period 37 children were born under the program in question.
A 38-year-old woman from Tavush in northeastern Armenia is one of the beneficiaries of the program. The woman who asked RFE/RL not to disclose her name five months ago gave birth to a child conceived through an extracorporeal fertilization technique. She says before that she spent years for treatment during which she had to frequently travel capital Yerevan. She says her family could not afford artificial fertilization and so she turned to a relevant state program that covered the costs. “After receiving the treatment I went through an extracorporeal fertilization procedure and now we have a baby,” she says.
In one of his recent policy speeches Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian called for an increase in the country’s population from the current 3 million to 4 million people by 2040. According to opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian, cutting finances for programs like artificial fertilization does not contribute to the cause. “Instead of cutting this spending, the government should quadruple it,” he said during recent budget discussions in parliament.
Healthcare manager Arsen Torosian considers it a disaster that drastic spending cuts are planned for the sector in next year’s state budget.
“The entire state budget will be reduced by 14 billion drams (about $29 million), of which a 5.9-billion-dram cut is foreseen for the healthcare sector alone. It’s like healthcare is an orphan,” he commented.