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Protecting the health of the young in Armenia

After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia faced a number of setbacks.

A serious conflict with Azerbaijan, its neighbour to the east, ended with a ceasefire in 1994, though no lasting solution to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has been found. And following Armenia’s declaration that the killings of ethnic Armenians between 1915-1917 by Turkish troops should be recognised as genocide, relations with Turkey, its neighbour to the west, are difficult and the border remains closed.

While the country’s development is partly hampered by trade blocks with its neighbours, Armenia’s economy has been growing over the last decade, with growth of nearly 5 per cent last year. However, unemployment and poverty remain widespread, with 1 in 10 of the population living on less than a dollar per day. Since independence, many families have gone abroad in search of a better life and it is estimated Armenia has lost up to a quarter of its population. For those that remain, the Armenian government is committed to reducing poverty and improving services. Using the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDG) as a framework, Regional Development Programs have been initiated in all 10 regions of Armenia to set up indicators and meet localised MDG targets.

A new Child Health Certificate Programme was also announced nationally at the end of last year. With financial assistance from the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) and USAID, as well as support from the charity World Vision, over 8 million dollars will be injected into the healthcare system to improve services for young children and help reduce child deaths. Each child under 7 years of age will have a State Certificate, which acts like a health passport. It allows parents to reclaim the cost of any hospital care or medical treatment, as well as providing information and guidance on health issues such as immunisation, breastfeeding, nutrition and child safety issues. The Minister of Health, Haroutyun Kushkyan, said that the aim of the programme was to build on reforms which had already taken place and bring further ‘tangible achievements’ in maternal and child health.

With healthcare services, tests and medication provided free to children under seven, some agencies are focusing on the needs of teenagers and young people in Armenia. In 2005, UNICEF warned that HIV/AIDS could prove a “potential disaster” if nothing was done to raise awareness levels about the disease among the young. Though there is still a very low incidence of infection (with a prevalence of 0.1 per cent in 2009), Armenia was one of only 7 countries where HIV infection rates rose over 25 per cent between 2001 and 2009. With stigma and discrimination still proving a major obstacle to prevention and testing, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Armenia has been sponsoring ‘Theatre for Changes’. Last year, the theatre group staged a play called ‘Who Could Imagine?’ about a young girl who became infected by her boyfriend. Aimed at young people and students, the play will be toured round Armenia during 2011 to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and explore issues of stigmatization.

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