October 14th, 2020
BREAKING: Azeri Attacks Threaten Nagorno Karabakh’s Only Disability Rehab Centre
Within a three-day period, all staff and patients were forced to evacuate.
In the midst of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) lies a profound symbol of hope – The Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre – an internationally recognised ‘Centre of Excellence.’ Founded in 1998, following the end of the Nagorno Karabakh war, the Centre has 73 staff and annually treats approximately 160 inpatients and 384 outpatients. Staff make approximately 155 home visits per year to patients in the region. In 2018, the Centre provided 12,889 physical therapy sessions, 4,284 psychologist sessions, 3,166 speech therapy sessions and 2,302 hydrotherapy sessions. Its inspirational staff, led by the Centre’s Founder and Director Vardan Tadevosyan, have helped to break the stigma of disability which was widespread throughout the former Soviet Union.
It is estimated that there were in the region of 50,000 people wounded in the brutal war of 1988-1994. Many soldiers and civilians were left disabled and lacking even the most basic medication for pain relief. In 1998, a bomb-damaged building was reconstructed as the region’s first and only rehabilitation facility for people with disabilities. During 1999-2000, the Centre hosted intensive specialist courses for local nurses, and in 2005, the rehabilitation facility was re-named the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre. Since then, a state of the art hydrotherapy pool has been installed, a daycare centre for young children with mental and physical disabilities has been opened, and a specialised sub-centre for the treatment of children with autism and cerebral palsy has been added.
The Centre’s manager, Vardan has proved innovative in breaking many of the entrenched Soviet taboos. While children with physical or mental handicaps have often been segregated, his nursery embraces children with and without disabilities who serve as path-breaking examples of integration. He has also broken the Soviet prejudice against the employment of people with disabilities, initially employing, for example, a blind psychologist for telephone counselling.
Originally from Yerevan, Vardan moved to Artsakh in 1999. Before establishing the Centre, Vardan was a rehabilitation therapy educator in physical and occupational therapies, with a particular focus on supporting injured civilians and service men following the 1992-94 Nagorno-Karabakh war.
In a post-soviet region, the concept of disability care was non-existent and Vardan vowed to break the stigma surrounding disability through exemplifying what can be achieved with training and commitment. The Centre has since brought about transformational change to people with disabilities, who would have otherwise been isolated and neglected – both those paralysed and injured by war, and those with inherited or accidental disabilities.
Today, the Centre has over 70 members of staff, including 25 nurse specialists. Its Home Visits Division provides services to more than 100 people with severe disabilities in outlying areas. Hundreds of patients receive care annually including physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and other therapies including high-quality tuition for patients in music, art and sport. The Centre now houses a state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool with qualified staff to ensure its effective use, and a new Day Care Centre for children with autism.
The Centre’s achievements are more remarkable given the ongoing military tensions in the region. The situation of ‘no war, no peace’ which has prevailed for twenty years, has left the area economically and politically isolated.
Now, the Government of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) provides the main funding for the Centre, whilst HART’s support contributes towards staff costs and the wider availability of drugs and therapies.
Fast forward to October 2020 and Vardan continues to show strength and resilience as he has worked tirelessly for 72 hours to evacuate all of his staff and patients to Yerevan. With his own family living in Yerevan, Vardan has chosen to stay in Stepanakert and provide rehabilitation support to the region’s hospitals. His last words to us at HART at 4:33 pm on Friday 2nd October were: “We are now under attack. It is alert. They are attacking from the air. Pray for us.”
On 11 October, we asked Vardan about how the Centre and its work has been affected by the conflict. Vardan said: “During the last few days I was working hard to deliver medicine in the basements where the people are hiding. The patients and all employees are evacuated to Armenia. I’m doing my responsibilities with two colleagues. Now I am leaving to Yerevan to bring more staff. The Centre is not damaged thanks to God but it is not safe to stay inside especially when the bombs come from the sky.”
The Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre in Artsakh is the only facility of its kind in the region for people in the region and has been recognised as a Centre of Excellence. If Artsakh were to fall, what would happen to the Centre and the hundreds of people and families who benefit from the care that it offers, doesn’t bear thinking about. We can only hope and pray that there will be a real ceasefire, and that the international community will at last give to the people of Artsakh the recognition and self-determination for which they have longed and strived for a century, so that all the people of Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) and Azerbaijan can live at peace.
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