Coronavirus exposes problems of Armenian healthcare system

Coronavirus exposes problems of Armenian healthcare system

The effectiveness of Armenian healthcare system was questinable even before the coronavirus. With the collapse of the USSR, many experienced doctors left Armenia, and public health faced a shortage of necessary resources. The transport, energy blockade and other consequences of the Karabakh war adversely affected the industry as a whole. The republic was forced to refuse from universal free medicine, which in the Soviet years included trips to rest houses and sanatoriums, as well as preventive examinations and paid sick leave.

The current Armenian medical care is mainly paid and is provided on a limited scale at the level of district centers. In rural areas, this is often absent.

The COVID-19 virus epidemic has become a serious test for the healthcare of almost all countries of the world, including Armenia. Armenian doctors were trained in a timely manner to recognize the virus, but were not provided with the necessary number of diagnostic complexes. Although medical workers in Armenia are quite qualified, the availability of medical services remains the best. Mostly services can be obtained in Yerevan and its suburbs.

Over the past decade, Armenian health care has staked on the establishment of the Institute of Family Physicians, which provide primary medical care and prevent diseases. Today, there are hundreds of such specialists in the country, however, their competence is limited to general family practice, which is not designed to prevent epidemiological safety. Patients with coronavirus have to be transported across the country to the capital's medical facilities, where epidemiological services work directly.

This does not allow localizing the source of the spread of the virus, since the final diagnosis can only be made in the republican center, and there is no possibility to independently pass an infection test in the country. Polyclinics and outpatient clinics operate in Armenian cities, but there are not enough infectious wards, dispensaries with a special regimen of visits and treatment. Such institutions with their own infrastructure should be located away from residential buildings. But in Armenia, patients with COVID-19 end up in ordinary medical facilities or hospitals, whose staff is forced to allocate separate places, equip premises, risking infection.

Armenian medicine is a unique analogue of European patient-centered healthcare. Coronavirus radically influenced this system, demanding a change in approach in favor of assistance oriented to society as a whole. Now Armenia does not need family doctors, but sanitary doctors and epidemiologists. But they are not enough, the expectation of help stretches for several hours, and the burden on doctors increases many times. Today, medical staff more often thinks about going on vacation or dismissing because of fears of contracting a coronavirus.

Armenian media do not provide operational information on the number of sick physicians; and the authorities do not comment on the situation with equipping hospitals with ventilators and personal protective equipment. Any criticism or excessive curiosity associated with the prevention of coronavirus is perceived by those in power as alarmism. Therefore, the public is forced to learn most of the news about the state of affairs in hospitals through social networks, where employees of medical institutions allow themselves to share information.

In what scenario the spread of coronavirus in Armenia will go, it is not clear. However, it is now obvious that the republic’s healthcare systems were not ready to quickly confront the threat, which requires large-scale events, rather than targeted assistance. The question arises of the advisability of developing a European version of healthcare in the country, as well as the measures and financial resources that should have been invested in the industry.

So far, all hope is for doctors and medical personnel, since, as the Armenian reality has shown, now it’s much cheaper and easier for the authorities to pay for the heroism of doctors than to structure and reform healthcare in general.