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Armenia - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson
All travellers to Armenia should ensure that they are up to date with immunisation against tetanus, polio and diphtheria (now given as an all-in-one vaccine, Revaxis, which lasts for ten years), and hepatitis A. Hepatitis A vaccine (Havrax Monodose or Avaxim) comprises two injections given about a year apart. The course costs about £100 (but may be available on the NHS), it protects for 25 years and can be given even close to the time of departure. Travellers to more remote areas may be advised to be vaccinated against typhoid fever.
In addition, some visitors, depending on what they are likely to be doing, may be advised to have protection against hepatitis B and rabies. Visitors should ensure that they take any essential medications with them as drugs can be difficult to access. Consider also taking antibiotics with you (available only on prescription in the UK). Tuberculosis is very common in Armenia, with an incidence of 73 cases per 100,000 people in 2008. The disease is spread through close respiratory contact and occasionally through infected milk or milk products. The vaccine is usually only recommended for those aged 16 or younger who will be spending three months or more living and working with the local population. For those aged 17–35, a case-by-case assessment needs to be done. The vaccine is less effective the older you are, so it would only be used for those over the age of 35 if they had never been vaccinated and were going to Armenia as health care workers.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
Most visits to Armenia are trouble free. Crime is increasing in Yerevan especially (though from a very low base level) and visitors should take sensible precautions. The risk of being a victim is, however, much less likely than in most western European and American cities. Far greater risks after dark are either tripping up on pavements in need of repair or else falling into holes dug during the pavement’s reconstruction. Watch out, too, for missing manhole covers. These risks have reduced, at least in the centre of Yerevan, but can still be a problem elsewhere.
The military situation does mean that some areas along the 1994 ceasefire line should definitely be avoided because of the risk from occasional snipers on the Azerbaijan side. The old road from Ijevan to Noyemberian is a particular problem but there is no need to use it as a new road has been built further from the ceasefire line. There is a problem, particularly in Nagorno Karabagh, from minefields. To the best of the author’s knowledge all places mentioned in this guide are perfectly safe to visit and sights where the unresolved conflict means that safety is problematic have been excluded. However, visitors to Nagorno Karabagh should note that consular services are unavailable there if they do encounter difficulties.
Given the disputed border with Georgia in the north, especially in Lori Province, visitors are advised not to attempt to cross the border apart from at the recognised border crossings. Visitors are unlikely to be in great physical danger but may be arrested by the Georgian authorities.
Armenia’s death rate in road-traffic accidents has historically been proportionately much higher than that in the UK despite considerably lower traffic levels. The Armenian figure is likely to deteriorate even further as the improved roads tempt drivers to higher speeds and increasing traffic levels mean that it is even more dangerous than it was previously to drive round blind bends on the wrong side of the road. In fact the old pot-holed tracks, where speeds were perforce low as drivers sought to avoid the deepest ruts, have undoubtedly helped to keep the accident rate down. The legislation dating from Soviet days making the wearing of seat belts compulsory is now actively enforced by the traffic police, as are speed limits.
Pedestrians should be extremely careful at pedestrian crossings. Often vehicles do not give pedestrians priority at such crossings, even though there is a hefty fine if caught disobeying. Be especially aware of traffic turning right.
There are no particular safety problems for women as the strongly traditional family values ensure that they will not receive unwelcome attention. It is true that a woman walking alone in the late evening is an uncommon sight but it does not imply that she would be vulnerable if she did. Women drivers are now seen in Armenia but they are still a small minority.
Travelling with a disability
As Armenia is a former republic of the Soviet Union, attitudes towards travellers with disabilities are still very much entrenched in the Communist era. However, like other countries in the region, it is slowly changing to reflect outside influences as it tries to increase its tourist trade for those with disabilities. Armenia has very few facilities for the disabled although ramps for wheelchair access have appeared in one or two hotels.
Travelling with children
This is not a problem from the social aspect. They are welcome anywhere. Family life is important to Armenians – they would find the concept of a child not being allowed into a restaurant, for example, very strange. Nappies and baby food are available in Yerevan and other major towns, often from pharmacies. Most restaurants and hotels will respond to parents’ requests about food preparation. In Yerevan, the Grand Candy café is specifically geared towards children and some other cafés have play areas. There are funfairs near the cathedral and in Victory Park, and amusements for smaller children in Children’s Park on Beirut Street. Some swimming pools have facilities for children, for example Waterworld, and good weather brings out street amusements in a number of towns.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in 2003 but is still an unacceptable lifestyle in Armenian society. The British Foreign Office advises homosexual travellers to exercise discretion in Armenia. It is common in Armenian culture to see a mother and daughter or two female friends holding hands in the street and not uncommon to see two men hug and kiss each other in greeting; these signs of affection are not an indication of sexual orientation.