Thursday, 20 September

Humanitarian medicine was intentionally left to expire- 4

Out of the entire amount of medicine that entered Armenia as humanitarian assistance in 2001-2002, one-billion-drams-worth expired before it could be used. Between August 2001 and November 2002, the Department of Medical and Technological Supply of the Ministry of Health headed by Artashes Bisharyan was in charge of the distribution of medicine sent to Armenia through humanitarian channels. The main cause of the expiration was the promotion of the local pharmaceutical business; in other words, drug distribution was delayed intentionally, to protect local businesses.

On May 23, 2004 Aravot daily published a piece entitled "The Comments are Groundless", in which Artashes Bisharyan responded to our, as he put it, "accusations". It is strange, to say the least, that after the publication of his comments Bisharyan still holds his office. Based on his explanations, the Prosecutor's Office should have at least initiated a new inquiry and instituted charges against both Bisharyan and former Minister of Health Ararat Mkrtchyan.

Bisharyan discussed the objective and subjective causes of this situation. "In May 2001, the medicine flown in by the United Armenian Fund (flight # 113) was held by the customs department for more than two months, because they alleged that the psychiatric drugs on board had been smuggled in. Thus, humanitarian drugs that already had a short period until expiration had expired by the time they entered Armenia ," Bisharyan claimed. This was the objective reason. But this is simply not true, since there were no drugs with two-month expiration dates among the humanitarian medicines sent to Armenia . And the expiry periods for the psychiatric drugs mentioned by Bisharyan were up to fourteen months. We have tried to get an answer to this question from Harut Sasunian, the chairman of the United Armenian Fund. He has promised to get back to us.

Artashes Bisharyan also referred to the subjective cause for the expiration of the drugs. "When I was appointed head of the Department of Medical and Technological Supply of the Ministry of Health, I felt from the beginning that there were expired medicines that had accumulated and, for unknown reasons, they were still being distributed. I informed the minister of this, I even wrote some six or seven reports stating that it was necessary to itemize the humanitarian medicine and to audit the center. They didn't do it. In addition, the quantities supplied by us were altered - raised or lowered - at the warehouse of the Center for Humanitarian Assistance. The numbers in their reports did not correspond to our numbers. I informed my supervisors about all this but nothing was done about it, and now it turns out that I am to blame." So Artashes Bisharyan, who took the Hippocratic oath, knew that expired medicine was being distributed among the clinics, and merely informed his supervisors. They didn't do anything about it, and he himself didn't even try to prevent the crime. During his tenure the practice of distributing expired medicine has continued. It is not clear why the prosecutor's office has not tried to find the patients who were given expired drugs. What if those patients got sicker, or died, because of the medicine they took?

Discussing the expiry dates of the humanitarian medicine, Bisharyan said, "We receive these medicines mainly from the United States , and only one or two percent of these drugs are registered in our market. And while we are explaining what kind of drugs they are, how they are used, their already short expiry dates come to an end."

We should point out, however, that months before these medicines arrive, the Health Ministry and the United Armenian Fund co-ordinate with each other the denominations of the drugs to be sent to Armenia . There have been instances when the Health Ministry has refused to accept a certain drug.

We have also reported that Artashes Bisharyan signed documents providing Polyclinic #2 in Hrazdan with 26 million drams (about $46,000) worth of medicine. But this polyclinic had already been closed within the framework of the health system optimization program. Here is what Bisharyan had to say about this:

"How can I refuse to give medicine to the clinic if its chief medical officer comes with the necessary certificate and the polyclinic's seal to get the drugs. I was never been informed either verbally or in writing that the polyclinic had been closed." But as an official of the Ministry of Health, he had first-hand knowledge of the optimization program (the list of the clinics to be closed within the framework of the health system optimization program sits on his desk). Moreover, his ex-wife, Melsida Gasparyan, accepted the medicine on behalf of this polyclinic. She was subsequently arrested, and is now imprisoned in the Abovian women's jail. In reality, this woman fell victim to Artashes Bisharyan.

Bisharyan's explanations do nothing to dispel suspicions that the humanitarian medicine was intentionally left to expire. When we compared the Humanitarian Center 's list of expired medicine with the list of medicine sent to Armenia , we discovered some interesting facts in response to which Bisharyan will again, no doubt, offer interesting explanations. Among the expired medicine were Dilacor 240 mg # 500 (500 boxes), worth 7.5 million (about $ 14,000) drams, and Dilacor 18 mg # 100 (1,943 boxes), worth 3.4 million (about $ 6,400) drams. It turns out that during the same period of time the same medicines were imported into Armenia by Bisharyan's company, Deghabaza Yerevan, Ltd. We are trying to find out the names of the organizations that exported these drugs during the period when the humanitarian medicine was left to expire, and who else besides Bisharyan benefited from making the humanitarian medicine expire in order to sell the imported drugs.

The documents at our disposal have brought another fact to light as well. It was not only humanitarian medicine that was left to expire thanks to the efforts of Bisharyan, but also three denominations of drugs acquired by the State Purchasing Agency. These were drugs for treating tuberculosis - Pirazinamid and Lorazipam, and the psychiatric drug Moditen Depo.

Thousands of socially vulnerable families had no money to buy medicine, and at the same time the Humanitarian Center of the Ministry of Health was leaving this medicine to expire.

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