Residents of a small town in Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province and nearby villages blocked a highway on Wednesday to protest against the government’s decision to close a local maternity hospital.
The Armenian Ministry of Health stopped financing the hospital located in the town of Maralik this month, citing a directive signed by Health Minister Arsen Torosian in July 2018. It mandates the closure of state-funded maternity hospitals handling fewer than 150 childbirths annually. Only 102 babies were born at the Maralik hospital in 2019.
The ministry on Tuesday defended the 2018 decision, saying that small hospitals are not cost-effective and, more importantly, increase the risk of newborn deaths. “Experience shows that over time the small number of births inevitably leads to the loss of personnel’s professional qualifications,” it said in a statement.
The ministry also argued that the Maralik hospital, which current employs 12 people, is currently understaffed, lacking a surgeon and two other essential medics.
The hospital staff as well as dozens of other residents of Maralik and surrounding villages rejected these arguments as they blocked a section of the highway connecting Yerevan to Gyumri, Shirak’s administrative center located 25 kilometers north of the town.
Officials from the Ministry of Health arrived at the scene to negotiate with the protesters. The latter remained unconvinced.
“How can we have 150 childbirths if the villages have small populations?” said one of the protesters. “Our maternity hospital caters to 17 villages … Gyumri is far away from the villages.”
“Let them bring [medical] specialists to work here,” said another local resident.
The road was unblocked a few hours later. The protesters warned that they will block it again if the authorities continue to reject their demand.