Hope for Better Health: Polyclinics to be free beginning next year

Beginning next year, all Armenians will be treated free of charge in the republic’s polyclinics.

Currently free polyclinic services – examinations, diagnosis, some vaccines, etc. – are available to those who qualify for State aid. But the new policy will make such services free to everyone.

Even though Armenia’s “poorest” (and elderly) have had free access to polyclinic services, health officials believe there are many – also vulnerable – who are not getting primary care because they cannot afford it – either due to legitimate fees, or to bribes, that are a common part of the healthcare experience here.

(Public access to healthcare in Armenia has severely declined over the past 15 years due to widespread poverty and corruption among medical personnel. A nationwide household survey conducted by the National Statistics Service in 2003 found that only one in three people visit a medical facility once they have problems with health.)

The new policy is expected to favor, for example, pregnant women who should already be getting free healthcare, but maternity hospitals are among the most corrupted of Armenia’s healthcare structures.

“When we say primary healthcare is free that means nobody can demand money from citizens at the polyclinics anymore,” says Armen Soghoyan, head of Health and Social Security at the Yerevan Municipality.

The State expects to spend about 39 billion drams (some $87 million) on general public health next year. The amount designated for polyclinics has not yet been determined.

The new policy, announced Monday, will do away with the tradition of “open doors” – occasionally designated days on which all citizens were treated for free.

For example, on October 8, in honor of the 2787th anniversary of the founding of Yerevan, 5,300 citizens took advantage of the latest “open doors” day.

During a press conference, Soghoyan was asked whether making the polyclinics entirely free would have a damaging effect on the quality of care expected.

Soghoyan replied that the amount of the allocated money (about $25-27 per citizen), naturally, implies relevant quality. (He said it does not mean, though, that patients will be asked, for example, to bring their own bandages, as is sometimes the case now.) Subsequently priority will be given to the diagnosis and prevention of illnesses.

“Health care establishments are state institutions, and the size of the wages are decided by the director of the given institution. Of course, increase of health care establishment budgets is foreseen but at present no drastic increase of salaries is possible,” says Soghoyan.

(Information for this report was also provided by RFE/RL www.armenialiberty.org)