- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
March 26, 2004

Medical Alert: Mental health patients suffer as result of import problems  

Echmiadzin resident Suren Shahnazaryan has been in a desperate situation for more than a month.

Suren has had schizophrenia for more than 20 years and has controlled the disease with medication. But for more than a month it has been impossible to buy the drug he needs.

“Every minute I live in fear,” says Suren. “I'm out of drugs and I take substitutes which are very weak. The thought that I may feel worse and do something wrong gives me no rest.”

Suren needs a psychotropic drug called cyclodol. But like other medications used in the treatment of mental illness, importers have stopped sending such medicines as cyclodol, stelazin, ziprexa and others into Armenia . Mental health professionals are angry at the Ministry of Health for not finding a solution to the problem.

Adviser to the Minister of Health Ruslana Gevorgyan says the Ministry buys medicines in a centralized system but recently they have faced serious problems in this sphere.

“Psychotropic medicines, in this case cyclodol, can be imported into Armenia by several importers who have recently refused to import them because of several reasons,” says Ruslana Gevorgyan. “We asked for this problem to be solved, but the reply is being delayed for quite a long time.”

Psychiatrist Harutyun Minasyan says cyclodol is not being imported since raw materials prices increased.

“The state has left things drifting and doesn't do anything about this issue,” says Minasyan the majority of whose patients have ended up with severe reactions to the suspension of medication. “In general, the state has almost always been indifferent towards mental patients and in this case it keeps its cold calmness.”

(Officially, there are about 30,000 residents of Armenia who suffer mental health problems. Doctors say the real figure is 10 times that.)

The director of Syunik neuro-psychiatric clinic Ararat Vardanyan says that problems of the mentally ill become more acute during spring and that he has seen patients' conditions worsen since the medicines have stopped.

“A month ago when the cyclodol deficit started we were assured that the problem would be solved in two weeks maximum,” he says. “However, it's already been five weeks and no good news yet.”

Psychiatrists say that for unknown reasons, schizophrenia has increased in Armenia in recent years. Cyclodol works in tandem with other drugs and that without it the other medication becomes ineffective.

Minasyan says that previously cyclodol was rather cheap and one tablet produced in Russian or the Ukraine costs about 10 drams (less than two cents). But recently, raw material prices have increased by five times. Even though this medicine is produced in neighboring Iran and many other countries, Armenia has contracts with only Russia and Ukraine and it takes time and certificates to sign new contracts.

Deputy Director of Armenian Drug and Medical Technology Agency Albert Sahakyan who is one of those who controls this field cannot explain why cyclodol is not being imported.

“There's nothing we can do,” he says. “Cyclodol hasn't been imported for a long time and most likely there won't be any for a minimum of another month.”

Sahakyan expresses a hope that in a month Arpimed Armenian pharmaceutical agency will start producing cyclodol, which will solve many problems.

Meanhwhile, Minasyan charges that apathy for the mental ill is at the root of the crisis.

“Thousands of people become victims of several people's whim,” says Minasyan. “Cyclodol and other similar medicines are psychotropic, so they can't be imported without a certificate so relatives of those patients who want to bring the medicine through their means from Russia or other country cannot do it since it's against the law. As of today, people are deadlocked from all sides.”

According to Agnes


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