Health Issues Emerge as Top Concern Among Nagorno-Karabakh Refugees in Armenia
The armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh has caused many displaced persons to take refuge at transitional settlements across Armenia. Several thousand people are suffering from life-threatening health conditions and inadequate access to health care services.
Bethesda, MD – 3 December, 2020 – The armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh has forced several thousand people suffering from health issues out of their homes. Many displaced persons, who have taken refuge at transitional settlements across Armenia, are suffering from life-threatening health conditions and face inadequate access to health care services, according to an assessment conducted by Project HOPE.
“The war might be over, but the impact on several of thousands of people displaced from their homes continues.”
The assessment also shows that health issues are the primary concern for displaced populations (35% of respondents) followed by financial issues (22% of respondents).
“The war might be over, but the impact on several of thousands of people displaced from their homes continues,” says Chris Skopec, Executive Vice President at Project HOPE. “Women, men, and children fled the violence for safety, leaving their homes and possessions behind, but carrying with them preexisting health conditions, the threat of COVID-19, and the fear of an uncertain future.”
The health needs assessment was conducted in November 2020 by Project HOPE’s Emergency Response Team in Armenia at two transitional settlements: a Kindergarten in Arshaluys (Armavir province) and a summer camp in Meghradzor (Kotyak province). Armavir and Kotyak provinces hosted respectively 15,000 and 18,000 displaced persons at the time of the assessment. Displaced populations from the Nagorno-Karabakh region have found refuge in empty hotels, camps, vacant buildings, and host families.
Cardiovascular diseases make up the top health issue among displaced persons (39% of respondents) followed by mental issues, renal disease, and diabetes.
Anush, 41, used to be a school psychologist back home. She fled her home when the war broke and has been at the summer camp settlement in Meghradzor. “I think all of us have health issues, regardless of age. I can see that many people around me are affected by this conflict, both mentally and physically. Even those who were healthy before are now complaining about a new disease,” Anush told Project HOPE.
The massive arrival of people from Nagorno Karabakh has already impacted and stretched the capacity of the health care facilities in Armenia, which have already been exhausted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The health services provided at makeshift clinics at the transitional settlements are not enough. The assessment shows that displaced persons had to purchase expensive medication for those who need ongoing treatment for life-threatening chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Reproductive health care for pregnant women is only available at a very basic level. There was no OB/GYN doctor or nurse trained in midwifery at the kindergarten settlement.
The sudden increase of workload related to providing consultations and treatment to displaced persons has also created a severe staffing shortage. There used to be only one medical doctor in Tsakhkadzor town, Kotayk province, for 1100 inhabitants. Today, the same doctor is also responding to the medical needs of 2500 displaced persons, according to the assessment. “I am running all day and night after refugees from one place to another, being exhausted,” told this doctor to Project HOPE’s team in Armenia.
“Without question, providing urgent health assistance should be a top priority of the humanitarian response to displaced populations in Armenia from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” says Skopec. “Let’s also remember that displaced persons with life-threatening medical conditions are at greater risk of being infected by the COVID-19 virus. Making sure they have access to clean water, soap, and PPE is critical.”
Project HOPE has donated 30 Essential Health Packs from International Health Partners to the Ministry of Health of Armenia. These packs contain medicines essential to support critical primary health care such as over-the counter and prescription medicines (antibiotics, analgesics, anti-inflammatories, etc.) Up to 24,000 people will benefit from the Essential Health Packs.
- “We are worried about getting sick and not getting the help we need while having to pay for medications we cannot afford. I have a small daughter – what if she gets sick? What am I going to do? What if I get sick? How will I take care of her?” – Arpi, 25, refugee at the Kindergarten
- “My nine-year-old daughter is very ill. She has a kidney infection; she was diagnosed with glomerulonephritis and needed treatment urgently. It’s not just the kidney, the little girl also has diabetes, and since we have been here, her blood sugar has gone up several times, and we have trouble getting insulin.” – Sveta, 31, refugee at the Kindergarten
- “I need money to feed my children! My children need to study, not look after their sick mother! I will choose to spend little money I have on them and not on my medical treatment. I am their mother, and I don’t want to be a liability.” – Anjelika, 42, refugee at the Camp
- “I have high cholesterol, arthritis, hypertension, and gynecological problems. I can hardly walk. My right hand is always numb. I was diagnosed with an intervertebral hernia but could not receive treatment as the war broke out, and we had to move to Armenia.” – Karine, 64, refugee at the Kindergarten
Facts and Figures:
- After 44 days of fighting, the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a cease-fire agreement to terminate the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh on November 9, 2020.
- The conflict resulted in the deaths of more than 140 civilians and thousands of combatants, widespread destruction to civilian infrastructure, and disruption to services.
- At least 140,000 people were displaced. 100,000 to Armenia and within Nagorno-Karabakh itself and 40,000 along the front line on the Azerbaijani side.
About Project HOPE
Project HOPE is a global health and humanitarian relief organization that is committed to placing power in the hands of local health care workers to save lives across the globe.