Four residents of thevillageofFantanare in the nearby Charentsavan hospital in serious condition, and another 130 villagers have been infected with a so far undiagnosed illness.
The epidemic broke out in Fantan, in the Kotayk marz, last March, but the Ministry of Health only learned about a week ago, when the number people infected rose past 130 and regional doctors could no longer conceal it.
“Three people in my family are in serious condition, they are in theCharentsavanHospital-- my sister, her daughter, and my brother’s wife,” Andranik Hovhannisyan confided. “My niece had been in bed at home for a month. The doctors just came and found out about it. We are tired of buying medicine, we sold all our cattle to buy drugs. We took my sister-in-law, Lusine, to the doctor’s office, they were saying she had throat cancer, and now after the tests came back they say it’s this disease.”
“I had a sore throat, I was choking, and now my legs and my ribs hurt. The doctor walks around the village handing out medicine - tetracycline and levomycetin. They say we got sick because of the water. The water was cut off for a week now and they bring it in trucks,” said Hakob.
Zina, a ninth-grader, told us, “Four days ago I felt weak, I was sweating a little. Two days later I had a high fever and started coughing. They prescribed medicine. I’m taking levomycetin, and now I feel a little better than before, but my ribs still hurt.”
In our conversations with people who had come down with the illness, we found out that they had all started out with sore throats, later on they had diarrhea, pain in their bones and joints, and fevers. The villagers also told us that the doctors consider their water to be the source of the epidemic, and they forbade us to use the village water.
On April 27, 2003 we first tried to find out what was going on from the local council of thevillageofFantan. As soon as we introduced ourselves, the deputy head of the council blew up: “It’s a good thing that you came to see me first. We have nothing to say to journalists.” His hostility stopped us from asking any more questions. We thanked him and went to talk to the villagers. Right away a young man walked out the office and began to moralize: “You don’t understand that there exist secrets in the state that should not be discussed. It is better that other people know nothing about this,” he lectured. Later we learned from the villagers that he is from Charentsavan and is a local election campaign manager from one of the political parties. He was the campaign coordinator in the village during the presidential election and is now in charge of the parliamentary elections. One of the villagers added that during the elections he went around handing out money.
We were still standing near the local council headquarters when the deputy head came out and said that a doctor wanted to talk to us. The doctor turned out to be the deputy head of the State Sanitary Anti-Epidemic Inspection of the Ministry of Health, Ghazaros Hakobyan. He refused to give us any official information, but promised that he would do so in five days, next Thursday. All we found out from him is that the strange disease is called "tularemia". He said that they were doing tests, but nothing definite could be said about the disease or where it came from.
“In the old days they cleaned the reservoirs twice a year, but now who does it? There are snakes in there, and dead dogs and rats. They used to clean the filth, now who cares? We have a second reservoir but the water pump is shut off because of the energy debt,” said Anik Hovhannisyan angrily.
“In my poor judgment, our representative in parliament should be our voice, he should present the people’s demands to the government. We voted for him in the elections and now we never see our MP’s face. All the officials, all the political parties should get together to solve the water problem, and even then I am not sure they’ll succeed,” said Patvakan, a 74-year-old grandfather. “Last December 5, theUSambassador came, they turned on the water pump and a week later they shut it off. They say the ambassador gave a lot of money for it. They kept showing how Fantan got water on TV. They painted two pipes, and showed that to the ambassador when he came. He left and a week later they shut off the water,” said a Fantan resident named Hakob.
The residents of Fantan are also worried about not being able to sell the milk and yogurt they produce in Charentsavan. The word in the town is that the dairy products are infected. The chief sanitary inspector of Charentsavan announced on the local TV station, Lusalik, that there is no danger and that people can use the milk and yogurt, but all the same, people are afraid to buy products that come from Fantan.