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Karabakh: Humanitarians respond to growing health needs

Concerns also remain for those unable to leave the Karabakh Region town of Khankendi – known as Stepanakert among Armenians – which the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said was close to empty.

Its priority remains finding those too vulnerable to help themselves.

Deserted city

“The city is now completely deserted. The hospitals, more than one, are not functioning,” said Marco Succi, ICRC Head of Rapid Deployment.

“The medical personnel have left. The water board authorities left. The director of the morgue…the stakeholders we were working with before, have also left. This scene is quite surreal.”

Mr. Succi confirmed that electricity and water were still available in the city and that the priority was to find those “extremely vulnerable cases, elderly, mentally disabled people, the people left without anybody”.

Helpless and alone

This included an elderly cancer patient, Susanna, who had been found in the last few days in a fourth-floor apartment building “alone and unable to get out of her bed. 

“Neighbours had left her food and water several days beforehand but their supplies were running out. While she waited for help, she had started to lose all hope. After ensuring she was stable, she was evacuated by ambulance into Armenia.”

Among the humanitarian relief destined for the city, the ICRC official reported that some 300 food parcels were expected to arrive on Tuesday from Goris, a key point of entry from the Karabakh Region, to provide essential commodities to those left behind.

“Many people left their houses and shops open for those who may be in need,” said Mr. Succi, reporting how an elderly lady had cleaned her fridge and house, “leaving the door open to ventilate the house, you know, for the newcomers”.

Massive influx

Echoing the urgency of the situation in neighbouring Armenia, the UN World Health Organization’s Dr. Marthe Everard, Special Representative of the WHO Regional Director to Armenia, said that the country’s health system needed to be strengthened to cope with the “massive” influx of refugees.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva via Zoom after returning from the town of Goris, Dr. Everard said that infectious diseases needed to be monitored and treated, while measles vaccination gaps should also be addressed.

Mental health and psychosocial support remained “critical”, she insisted.

Additional urgent needs among the new arrivals beside shelter included treatment for chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, the WHO official continued, noting the agency’s commitment to support the “extensive” efforts of the Armenian Government.

Integrating health workers

“This includes supporting the integration of more than 2,000 nurses and over 2,200 doctors into the Armenian health system,” Dr Everard said.

The WHO official also noted that the UN agency had scaled up emergency support to Armenia by providing supplies to help treat more than 200 adults and children who received terrible burns in the fuel depot explosion in Karabakh last week, which also claimed 170 lives. 

A specialist burns team had also been deployed as part of WHO Emergency Medical Teams Initiative and arrived in Yerevan over the weekend, Dr. Erevard said. “We have issued a wider call for further specialist teams to complement this workforce and to support moving some of these most critical patients to specialized centres abroad.”

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