Wednesday, March 17, 2004

This is a must read for all of you to better understand how some of our aid is being used.


March 2004

By Edik Baghdasaryan

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. In May 2001, Artashes Bisharyan was appointed head of the Department of Medical and Technological Supply of the Ministry of Health. He is the founder of Deghabaza Yerevan, Ltd., and was also the chairman of the Association of Pharmacists at the time of his appointment. Between August 2001 and November 2002, Artashes Bisharyan's department was in charge of the distribution of medicine sent to Armenia through humanitarian channels. During the same period, one billion drams worth of medicine expired. The main reason for the expiration was the promotion of the local pharmaceutical business; in other words, drug distribution was delayed intentionally, to protect local businesses.

In 2003, drug distribution was carried out by the Center for Humanitarian Assistance of the Ministry of Health. 1.3 billion drams worth of medicine was distributed; 40 million drams worth expired.

In the fall of 2002, the Ministry of National Security carried out an inspection of the Center for Humanitarian Assistance and in December 2002 the results were sent to the Office of the Prosecutor General. In July 2003 an action was brought against the Center. In October 2003, the Prosecutor's Office requested an inspection by the Supervision Department of the Ministry of Finance.

What really happened? Arthashes Bisharyan was engaged in the pharmaceutical trade through his company Deghabaza Yerevan, Ltd. When there were stocks of specific drugs at the Center for Humanitarian Assistance, only a part of them were distributed among the republican clinics, in order not to harm companies that traded in these drugs.

Period Distributing organization Value of expired medicine

January-August 2001 Ministry of Health Department of Medical and Technological Supply 139,000,000 drams

August 2001 - January 2002 Ministry of Health Department of Medical and Technological Supply (Head - Artashes Bisharyan) 241, 682,853 drams

January-November 2002 Ministry of Health Department of Medical and Technological Supply (Head - Artashes Bisharyan) 687,433,400 drams

2003 Ministry of Health Republican Center for Humanitarian Assistance (Director - Armen Hovsepyan) 40,000,000 drams

Now let's see which drugs expired while the department headed by Artashes Bisharyan was distributing the humanitarian medicine. Zitromax is an antibiotic in widespread demand. In 2001-2002, 200 million drams worth of
Zitromax expired. Tricor is for cardiac diseases and cholesterol. 300 million drams worth of Tricor expired as well. This drug is in widespread demand among the elderly; thus tens of thousands of pensioners were denied the possibility of getting this drug free of charge. Keppra is for psychiatric illnesses, and is in great demand in psychiatric hospitals. 54 million drams worth of Keppra expired. 55 million drams of Zofran (for cancer treatment) expired. Thus state officials wasted drugs that came to Armenia as humanitarian assistance in order to promote their own and their friends' businesses.

We haven't yet been able to find out which specific organizations sent these and similar drugs, or whom the State purchasing agency bought these drugs from.

The Republican Center for Humanitarian Assistance of the Ministry of Health is in charge of the humanitarian assistance sent to the Ministry of Health by the United Armenian Fund (USA) and other donor organizations - it stores, itemizes and distributes the assistance. All drugs and medical supplies are registered and catalogued, which makes it possible to check the availability and the quantity of the remainder of any drug at any given moment.

The December 18, 2000 Order # 726 of the Minister of Health established procedures for the distribution of humanitarian assistance. The ministry itself carried out the distribution. The donor organizations sent the lists of the available medicine in advance; they were examined, compared with the demand by the ministry, and sent back to the donors. The lists of the humanitarian medicine and medical supplies imported to Armenia were approved by the Ministry of Health. In this way, there were to be no surpluses of any given drugs.

The December 11, 2003 Order # 1283-A of the Minister of Health established a commission to draw up an inventory at the Republican Center for Humanitarian
Assistance. E. Ekmedjyan was appointed chairman of the commission. He is a member of the Armenian Association of Pharmacists. Another member of the commission, L. Isakhanyan, is the director of Levon and Lamara Pharmacy,
Ltd. Not only are these men are representatives of the pharmaceutical network, but they are Artashes Bisharyan's schoolmates as well. The ministry selected as its experts people who export and trade in medicine and medical supplies.

On February 12, 2004 the Aravot daily published a piece of news-based on documents presented by Bisharyan himself-that refutes information regarding criminal proceedings instituted against him. Strange as it may sound, Bisharyan also presented a document from the Prosecutor's Office stating that no criminal charges had been brought against him.

Nevertheless, criminal proceedings were instituted against Health Ministry employee Artashes Bisharyan. Moreover, the deadline for the preliminary investigation was twice postponed. Under Artashes Bisharyan, medicine for the public health service was purchased from his own company, and medicine provided as humanitarian aid was intentionally left to expire, in order to promote the pharmaceutical businesses of Bisharyan and his friends.

It should also be noted that the licenses for importing medicine to Armenia were granted by the chairman of the Association of Pharmacists, again Artashes Bisharyan. In other words, the gathering of information on all kinds of medicine imported to Armenia , their prices, and their demand and supply also went through Bisharyan. Therefore, the expiration of one billion drams worth of humanitarian medicine can be traced directly to deliberate actions by Bisharyan.

Our attempts to obtain clarification of this issue from the office of the
United Armenian Fund (USA) have thus far been unsuccessful.

But we do have at our disposal a copy of this August 12, 2002 letter from
UAF employee Nouritza Abujamra, addressed to Artashes Bisharyan:

"Thank you for forwarding the distribution report for medicines and medical supplies sent to the Health Ministry on airlifts 113 and 114.

Upon reviewing the report and adding up all the quantities distributed, we noticed that very minimal quantities were distributed. Please note the last two columns of the enclosed report, which I had added. The "Total Qty.
Distributed" shows the total number of bottles and boxes distributed. The following column "Qty. Not Yet Distributed" shows after more than one year of arrival of these medicines how much still is left in the warehouse, which is the bulk of the quantity sent. Most of the undistributed products cannot be used now because of their expiry dates. Could you explain to us why only very limited quantities are distributed?

We have noticed also that there are many hospital names among the recipients. We often receive in our office medical professionals from Armenia that visit Los Angeles, all expressing their dire need for medicines. Yet when we send medicines, the distribution report shows limited recipients. Please clarify this point too.

Forwarding this report in its present format to Catholic Medical Mission
Board will be more negative than positive and will affect on future donations for Armenia from them.

Waiting to hear your explanations as soon as possible."

We don't know how the head of the Department of Medical and Technological
Supply of the Ministry of Health, Artashes Bisharyan, responded to this letter. But the story doesn't end here. We have also found out that the Department of Medical and Technological Supply has been distributing the medicines in gross violation of regulations.

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