Ensuring access to pediatric healthcare for 10,000 children displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh
Over the past year, UNICEF reached 10,000 children displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh through regional polyclinics and mobile teams with the financial support of the Government of Japan.
Arman Voskanyan, 11, was born and raised in Nagorno-Karabakh. After living there for 25 years, Arman’s family had to move to their relatives in Artashat as a result of the conflict. The Voskanyans are now building a house in Artashat with their last savings and with support from benefactors. The relatives helped Arman to adapt to the new environment, albeit with difficulty. In the beginning, one of the main barriers was the language: his peers in Artashat did not understand the Karabakh dialect well. He soon faced another challenge as he had not undergone a medical check-up for a long time. As his father explained, living in a humanitarian situation for a long time brings other pressing priorities on daily basis.
In 2021, Arman was invited to visit Artashat polyclinic through UNICEF’s outreach efforts to ensure that children displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh have access to community healthcare services. After the check-up, Varduhi Sargsyan, Head of the Pediatric Department, identified a health issue and referred him to a full check-up and treatment at a medical institution in Yerevan. Weeks later, in 2022, Arman visited Mrs. Sargsyan for a follow-up check-in.
“When thousands of children fled to Armenia, accompanied mostly by their mothers or grandparents, we first tried to support them with basic necessities – nutritious food packages, hygiene products, COVID-19 prevention kits. In addition, we worked with the Ministry of Health to ensure that all children have access to community healthcare services through outreach by the community polyclinics or mobile health teams that visited remote communities,”
Over the past year 10,000 children and adolescents like Arman have been reached through essential pediatric health check-ups and, when necessary, referred to relevant specialists. With the funding of the Government of Japan, mobile teams of doctors were also set up in Ararat, Kotayk, Armavir, Vayots Dzor and Kapan, carrying out regularly visits to remote communities. In Ararat marz, UNICEF set up four mobile teams that service the entire marz, each team working at an average with 150 families.
“In Ararat, the mobile teams operate in Artashat, Ararat, Vedi and Masis. After receiving the contact details of families settled in our marz, we started to call each family. If the family lives in the four cities, we ask them to visit the polyclinic and make an appointment. If not, the mobile team visits them,”
“We work closely with the mobile team leaders to collect feedback on common cases and health issues from the various communities. During the check-ups, we have most often encountered issues with eyesight, metabolic complications, or musculoskeletal disorders. Health professionals have also warned about malnutrition related issues, including obesity,” added Liana Hovakimyan, UNICEF Health Specialist.
Marianna Margaryan from Nagorno-Karabakh is also at Artashat polyclinic with her 5-year-old Hovik, 3-year-old Hayk and 8-month-old Yeva for their routine check-up. After the displacement, she says her children would repeatedly get health issues for some period of time before they adjusted to their life in Armenia. The medical outreach by the regional polyclinic has been of much help to Marianna to keep the situation under check in her family, identify and respond to issues at an early stage.
“We have not had a lot of serious complications so far. Hayk somehow managed to get pneumonia, and we were immediately sent to Yerevan, where he underwent relevant examinations and treatment. After a short period of time he recovered and we forgot about the issue,” noted Marianna.
Dr. Diana Sahakyan, family doctor and pediatrician at Artashat polyclinic, considers the creation of mobile teams very important, especially considering the workload and challenges created by the pandemic.
“The number of patients has sharply increased. People panick easier and faster and tend to come to the polyclinic more often in an attempt to prevent serious health complications. Under these conditions, we would have been completely swamped and unable to serv
ice families from Nagorno-Karabakh and remote communities if not for the mobile teams. It also helps identify health issues in time for them to be treated quickly instead of remaining undiagnosed and getting worse. That has helped us prevent a future flow of complicated cases,” noted Mrs. Sahakyan.
Dr Sahakyan shares that in addition to their primary responsibilities, healthcare professionals also try to support caregivers to improve their parenting skills.
“It’s heroic to remain a very consistent, well-read and informed parent in a humanitarian situation, when even the basic daily needs of children are very hard to meet. Both new and experienced mothers find it hard to keep proper track of all things, including hygiene, sleep times or nutrition. When noticing these gaps, we provide them with relevant reading materials, discuss their challenges and try to find solutions,”
Apart from pediatric health outreach in the past year, UNICEF, with the support of the Government of Japan, has also provided regional health facilities in the five marzes with essential medical equipment or supplies that facilitate the work of mobile teams, as well as trained 1,500 primary care medical staff to support children in issues of nutrition, growth and development.