During 2021 we still grappled with major challenges in the sphere of public health. The pandemic continued to rage and Armenia was left with major physical and emotional casualties of war. FAR’s Health Program team carried on, leading in efforts to offer crucial support and long-term investment in public health measures.
Dr. Karine Harutyunyan
Dr. Karine Harutyunyan is the sole doctor for the 1,200 residents of a remote part of Armenia’s Syunik Province. The 67-year-old physician spent 30 years working as a pediatrician. In 2008, she participated in FAR’s Continuing Medical Education Program (CME) for the first time. In 2009, she moved to nearby Gorayk Medical Center as a general practitioner where she typical sees about 20 patients a day.
During 2021, Dr. Harutyunyan joined CME for a second time, focusing on how to improve her skills. While based in Yerevan, she did remote consultations and traveled back to Gorayk on the weekends to administer COVID-19 vaccines.
“Only about 400 people had been vaccinated at the time and due to misinformation many people didn’t want to get vaccinated,” she said. So Dr. Harutyunyan decided to start community information sessions with them to explain the benefits of the vaccine and to answer their questions. “We will overcome this pandemic through vaccination. Now my compatriots know that they should get it to be on the safe side for themselves and their children and seniors.”
More people have gotten vaccinated since her sessions started. Her sessions are also part of a long history of her quest to support public health education in her work. When she first arrived in the region Dr. Harutyunyan started inviting people to meetings where she taught them about things like the importance of breast feeding and childhood nutrition. She credits CME for helping her to become a better healthcare provider.
“Medicine is a constantly evolving science. If you are always updating your knowledge, then you can do everything,” she said. “As long as I work, I will continue this important path.”
After a year like 2020 with several months of upheaval due to the pandemic, FAR’s Continuing Medical Education Program (CME) was back on track in 2021 with 92 doctors, including 11 from Artsakh, participating in the program.
CME aims to elevate the level of quality and care of the healthcare system by providing opportunities for professional development to doctors who work in rural and underserviced areas. Through the program, doctors undergo a month-long mentorship program with doctors in Yerevan during which they can hone their skills, deepen knowledge of their specializations or even explore a new area of focus. CME also allows participants to tap into a large network of healthcare providers long after they’ve completed their trainings.
The CME Program has received national and international recognition for the powerful impact it has had on the country through the expansion of knowledge and skills of regional doctors, and ultimately the state of national healthcare in rural regions. Since it began in May 2005, CME has enabled 1,195 doctors, including 270 who practice in Artsakh thanks to FAR’s partnership with the Armenian American Health Professionals Organization (AAHPO), to participate in the program, many of whom have done so two or more times over the years.
In accordance with the Armenian government’s requirements for healthcare providers to have requisite professional development credits in order to maintain their licenses, CME is in higher demand than ever before with more than 72 doctors on the waiting list.
CME’s 15th year was belatedly recognized in May with an anniversary garden party at the National Medical Library in Yerevan. Sixty guests, including Artsakh’s Minister of Health and the Head of Armenia’s National Institute of Health, attended.
In addition, CME-supported conferences and trainings, both remote and in-person, attracted hundreds of healthcare professionals and leaders in the field on topics such as lessons learned in military medicine after the 2020 Artsakh War, and new approaches to rehabilitation for those injured in war.
A three-day workshop led participants to grapple with long-term development solutions for some of the greatest and most current challenges in Artsakh’s healthcare situation.
A five-day training was also held on the prevention of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and strokes, which are some of the leading causes of death not only in Armenia but also worldwide, for province-based primary healthcare specialists. More than 200 primary care physicians participated.
A 12-day Capacity Building Training for Community Nurses was also held in May in Yerevan for nurses based in Tavush Province. Working in one of the most impoverished provinces in Armenia, nurses are often the only healthcare providers in their rural communities and thus the de-facto primary healthcare providers.
In-person community public health trainings were also reinstituted in certain rural regions. Online trainings also continued and FAR hosted interactive online lectures on medical topics that included physical and neuro physical rehabilitation of war-related injuries. FAR also sponsored a virtual training on gastroenterology/digestive diseases, which brought together more than 1,000 participants from more than 30 countries around the world.
Combatting Malnutrition Program
With malnutrition linked to poor physical, cognitive and mental development, as well as behavioral abnormalities in children under the age of 6, FAR’s Combatting Malnutrition Program aims to make a significant investment in Armenian children’s development and wellbeing through improved access to nutrition.
During 2021, FAR was able to nearly double the number of children in Aragatsotn Province who receive access to improved nutrition through this project from 219 to 400 children by expanding the project’s reach to additional communities.
Community Nurses Training Program
The Community Nurses Training Program, previously known as the Nurses of Artsakh Training Program, expanded in 2021 to offer crucial professional development opportunities for nurses in Armenia as well as in Artsakh. Often the sole practitioners based in remote communities, many nurses are their de-facto primary healthcare providers. A well-trained healthcare workforce ensures the people in the rural and remote communities of Armenia and Artsakh receive the medical attention they so desperately need.
FAR initiated Nurses of Artsakh Training in 2018, which empowered more than 250 primary healthcare providers. The project was suspended in 2020, when Artsakh plunged into war and its resources reallocated to meet other urgent healthcare challenges.
The Community Nurses Training Program resumed in 2021, which helped 105 nurses in Artsakh’s Askeran, Martuni, and Martakert regions, as well as 47 nurses from the Berd Region of Tavush Province, one of the poorest regions of the Armenia.
In addition, 33 from communities around the Sisian Region of Syunik Province participated in valuable trainings, giving them the tools needed to help assist with the inflow of those displaced from Artsakh who have resettled in their communities, many of whom need treatment for postwar psychological trauma.
By the Numbers
doctors received professional development training (CME)
children have access to healthy and nutritious school meals (Combatting Malnutrition Program)
nurses received crucial and valuable professional development training (Community Nurses Training Program)