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Edik Baghdasaryan

Children die in the hospital

Arpine Harutiunyan
Edik Baghdasaryan

“In May, 2001 the deaths of nine children under one year of age were registered in the Ashotsk region of the Shirak province. I informed the local law enforcement and national security agencies of Ashotsk, and then the president, the prime minister, and the office of the prosecutor general. None of my appeals got any response,” Nina Vardanyan, chief physician at the Ashotsk Regional Center for Sanitation and Disease Control, told us. She has worked as a state sanitary inspector for 35 years.

Since June 1, 2000, her Center has been inspecting the health institutions in the region. Vardanyan says, “We have discovered epidemic diseases (poliomyelitis, German measles, whooping cough, syphilis), cases of suspicious death, the testing of unknown vaccines on children, and falsification of reports. In the first five months of 2001, ten children died in Ashotsk. Nine children under age one died in the Tiramair (Blessed Virgin) of Narek Hospital.” According to data from the Ministry of Health, the deaths of six children were registered in the hospital in the first eight months of 2001. Yet, “During the first eight months of 2001, the Civilian Registrar's Office registered eleven child deaths,” states the document from the Ministry of Health that we received. According to Vardanyan, employees of the Center registered many other illegalities at the hospital. When they reported all this, they were prohibited by the Department of Health of the Shirak Marz (province) to continue inspections.

R. Khachatryan, the head of the Shirak Marz Department of Health, told us that in May 2001, two children under the age of one had died in the Ashotsk region. She gave us data regarding the dead children. But we possess data from the head of the Ashotsk branch of the State Registrar and Statistics Office, H. Grigoryan, according to which nine cases of death in children under one year old were registered in Ashotsk in May 2001. It is unclear which official is lying.

Someone must be responsible for the children’s deaths, because many children died in the Tiramair Hospital during a certain period of time. Something must have gone wrong in the hospital. The hospital was founded in 1992, a gift by John Paul II to the residents of Ashotsk. In 1996 all the preventative medical institutions in the region were subordinated to the Tiramair Narek Hospital. In 1998, it was discovered that the patients and the personnel of the hospital were eating meat infected with parasites. When the facts were established, the cook was fined. Vardanyan says that inspections of the Tiramair Narek Hospital revealed that unknown vaccines were being tested on children, and expired vaccines were being used.

The head of the Department of Protection of Health of Mothers and Children of the Ministry of Health, Karine Saribekyan, denies that this could have happened at Tiramair Narek. “This hospital provides ideal conditions for patients,” Saribekyan insists. The director of the Tiramair Narek Hospital, Sargis Vardanyan, told us over the telephone, “Nina Vardanyan is mentally ill. For three or four years now she has been interfering with our work. We were inspected by President’s Administration, and they didn’t find anything.”

We were able to find information on the children who had died in the hospital and to visit some of their families. It was clear from what the parents told us that the children had died because of doctors’ negligence. Based on the facts, Nina Vardanyan had appealed to the Court of First Instance of the Shirak Marz in July 2001. The trial was postponed three times on specious grounds. During the last court session it was discovered that Nina Vardanyan had been fired. She was unable to represent the Center anymore. “The Head of the Provincial Center presented me with a document saying that structural changes had been made in the Center and I had been dismissed from office. But I’ve continued to work until today,” Vardanyan said. Both the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeals have turned down the suit. And the Court of Cassation refuses to accept the suit on the grounds that it has been presented “improperly”.

In a letter to the Prosecutor General, Nina Vardanyan described in detail the situation that reigns in the health institutions of the region, and presented numerous instances of violations. The Prosecutor’s Office, however, has done nothing.

Here are some questions she raises: “How were vaccines with unknown serial numbers imported into the health system of the region? How did it happen that secret tests were conducted on children? How is it possible to vaccinate 19 children with 4 doses of vaccine, or 29 children with 19 doses of vaccine, when one dose is stipulated for each child, and when a great quantity of un-expired vaccines had been discarded?”