Ailing Health System in Azerbaijan
Gets Shot in Arm from UMCOR
by Franklin Fisher
To help relieve these and other health care problems, and to see that care is provided to women and children especially, the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR) has several medical projects up and running in the southwest Asian country.
One operates numerous health clinics, and
another provides much-needed free medicines and medical supplies. A third
brings to the Azerbaijanis the medical expertise of doctors at
"Essentially, the Soviet system used to finance medicines and medical care," said Rick Spencer, UMCOR program officer for the newly independent states. "That has collapsed."
Now, the health care system itself needs
critical care: doctors are unschooled in up-to- date western medical
techniques; administrative procedures are wasteful and inefficient; health care
costs are out of reach for most cash-strapped Azerbaijanis; and medicines and
other medical items are in short supply. Because of the economic troubles,
medicines are not only scarce, they're too costly, Spencer said. Behind these
problems are the economic crisis that followed the
1991 collapse of the
For ordinary Azerbaijanis, food for one
person costs about $30 a month, but government pensions pay no more than $4 a
month. Those Azerbaijanis who have a job may make between $7 and $14 a month,
but medicines can cost twice that on the open market in
Some 400,000 people have taken refuge in and
around the capital city of
UMCOR operates 32 clinics in
For the Azerbaijani doctors who work in the clinics, the program also provides instructors who teach internationally accepted standards for prescribing medicines. Standards taught are those of the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) and the standard guidelines of the International Network for the Rational Use of Drugs. Doctors trained under the Soviet system have tended to over-prescribe antibiotics, a practice discouraged by the WHO standards, Spencer said.
A second UMCOR program provides free
medicines and medical supplies to the clinics. Funded by the U.S. State
Department, the Pharmaceutical Distribution Program provides syringes, sterile
needles, gauze bandages, and similar staples. "There are medicines
available throughout the former
Under the program, UMCOR this August
coordinated the airlift of $25 million worth of medical supplies and equipment
The Hospital Partnership Program between UMCOR and Baylor College of Medicine aims to present western medical standards and practices to Azerbaijani doctors who were trained under the limitations of the former Soviet system, Spencer said.
Begun this July, the program involves two
Future seminars will instruct Azerbaijani doctors in infection control; improved intensive care treatment; clinical laboratory practices; heart, abdominal, gastrointestinal, and vascular surgery; obstetrics and gynecology; women's health; anesthesiology; and hospital management.
Date posted: Jan 05, 1999