The Second International Medical Congress of Armenia

Second International Medical Congress of Armenia
Mamikoniants Str. 30, Yerevan, Armenia
Tel: (37410) 231232
Contact: Professor Ara Babloyan, President
Email: [email protected]

The Second International Medical Congress of Armenia

On the Path to World-Class Healthcare

A Conversation with Professor Ara Babloyan

Interview by Sona Hamalian

Q- You have an instrumental role in the realization of the Second
International Medical Congress of Armenia. Why is it important to
hold the Congress at this juncture in Armenia’s development?

A- It all comes down to helping secure the continued professional
growth of medical practitioners throughout Armenia and Karabakh. This
is a hugely important issue given the fact that both republics still
lack the resources to have doctors, nurses, and other medical workers
study abroad, and, as importantly, to enable them to receive
continuing education in other countries through internships,
fellowships, and symposia. It is against this backdrop that we
consider the Medical Congress of Armenia and the Armenian Medical
World Congress to be a watershed event in the modern development of
Armenian healthcare.

The Medical Congress traces its roots to the Beirut of the mid-1970s,
where Armenian doctors from across the globe first convened, despite
the extremely difficult conditions brought on by the Lebanese civil
war. Beginning in 1974, Armenian Medical World Congresses were held
once every four years in various world cities, organized by the
Armenian Medical International Committee. In the meantime, as Armenia
became independent and I was appointed Minister of Health, I was able
to participate in the Armenian Medical World Congresses of 1992, 1995,
and 1998, in Paris, Boston, and Lyon, respectively, though I was no
longer serving as minister in 1998. Throughout these events, the goal
of organizing similar medical congresses in Armenia was discussed
extensively and remained a top priority. The feasibility of the idea
was closely connected with economics while Armenia continued to
grapple with great hardship. Finally, during the Armenian Medical
World Congress in Toronto, in 2001, it was decided to start holding a
Medical Congress in Armenia once every four years, beginning in 2003.

The Second International Medical Congress of Armenia will build on the
achievements of the past three decades in a number of significant
ways. In the main, the event will expose local medical practitioners
to a veritable wealth of new knowledge, thanks to the presentations
and lectures of professors and medical experts from throughout the
world, many of whom are engaged in cutting-edge research. As
importantly, there will be invaluable opportunities for sharing
experiences and gaining fresh insights. But we’re also cognizant of
the fact that a considerable number of local healthcare professionals
could miss out on such opportunities as they can’t afford the basic
fee for participating in the Congress. This is why we have come up
with a way to reach out to them, through nine satellite symposia that
will link them to professors and doctors in Armenia, America, and
Europe. We anticipate that the satellite symposia will reach more than
a thousand healthcare professionals across Armenia, who will thus take
part in the Congress free of charge.

Q – What would you say are the key challenges facing the medical
establishments in Armenia and Karabakh, in terms of infrastructure,
availability of qualified professionals, certification, and healthcare
delivery?

A -Continuing education and training, and professional growth in
general, are the main challenges. We have an enormous number of
doctors who are experts in their fields, but given the evolving nature
of science, and medicine in particular, given the extremely fast pace
of international research and development, our healthcare
professionals must not only gain up-to-date information about their
specialties, they must also constantly improve their skills. This is
why it is critically important to hold medical congresses in Armenia,
which provide a consistent and reliable conduit for continued
professional development. These events are particularly useful for
healthcare professionals in the far-flung regions of Armenia and in
Karabakh. If practitioners in Armenia lack the means to travel abroad
for training and fellowship purposes, the situation is even harder for
practitioners in Karabakh, who often can’t even travel to Armenia to
attend symposia or congresses. In this respect, we are tremendously
grateful to the VivaCell company, whose generous support will make it
possible for 32 doctors and nurses from Karabakh to attend the Second
International Medical Congress of Armenia. Another challenge is
professional licensing. In 1996 we instituted a licensing program
whereby medical doctors would have to be certified once every five
years, based on their professional capabilities and performance. That
program was eventually terminated, but I’m happy to report that it
will likely be revived soon. Here, too, the importance of holding
medical congresses becomes clear, because they help determine the
necessary criteria and put in place the standards for medical
licensing and certification.

Q – What do you consider to be the main threats to public health in
Armenia and Karabakh?

A- The threats we face today fall into two categories:
developing-nation illnesses such as infectious diseases, and
developed-nation illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer,
and mental-health conditions. The key issue in our struggle against
these diseases is public health education. It’s about awareness. Like
people across the globe, Armenians today spend entirely too much time
in front of their computers or in their cars, don’t get enough
physical exercise, and are engaged in habits and lifestyles that lead
to chronic diseases. So our priority is to aggressively pursue the
goal of fostering public awareness of healthy lifestyles, including
diet, nutrition, smoking cessation, physical activity, and
prevention. To this end, we must focus on the education of children in
particular to safeguard the health of emerging generations.

Q- How would you rate the Armenian public’s awareness of health issues
at the moment?

A- I think it is a testament to the awareness and tenacity of the
Armenian people that it didn’t fall prey to certain epidemics
associated with extreme poverty, during the economically trying years
following independence. Today, however, as Armenian civil society
continues to develop, it is actually falling prey to certain
lifestyles and practices associated with prosperity. So I would say
there is much to be done in terms of health education and awareness,
especially viewed in cultural terms. Take, for instance, our growing
reliance on automobiles. If a child today were to use a bicycle to go
to school, he would be laughed at by his or her classmates. You’ll
notice that almost no one rides a bike in Yerevan, fearing
ridicule. Why is this so? We must encourage awareness that riding a
bike is not only good for one’s health, it also helps reduce our
dependence on oil.

Q- How would you grade government-funded medical programs in Armenia
and Karabakh? Do you believe the shortfalls are due to the nature of a
transitional economy? Or do you think more can be done at the present?

A- We have come a long way since the dark years of the 90s, when
medical care was in a disarray following the collapse of the Soviet
system. Since then we have made significant strides in providing the
Armenian public with primary healthcare. And I think this is precisely
where we should continue to focus our attention, in conjunction with
efforts to foster public awareness of health issues. Safeguarding the
health of the public starts with primary care, including, especially,
vaccination. This is where prevention takes root, at the clinics of
family doctors, it’s where better lifestyles are promoted.

Q- What are some of the major benefits that Diaspora professionals
would reap by participating in the Medical Congress?

A- Apart from providing a unique opportunity for sharing experience
and knowledge with colleagues from throughout the globe, an event like
the Second International Medical Congress of Armenia is a wonderful
conduit for nurturing friendship between professionals from the
Diaspora and Armenia, for advancing mutual understanding and
collaboration in a variety of projects. By coming into contact with
one another, Armenians and Diasporans not only have a chance to enrich
their ties, they also gain a greater understanding of each other’s
aspirations, challenges, and goals, with Armenia acting as a spiritual
catalyst.

Q- What is your understanding of Armenia-Diaspora collaboration in the
medical sphere, within the context of the Medical Congress?

A- Armenia-Diaspora collaboration is at the core of our efforts to
safeguard the health of the Armenian public. When healthcare
professionals from the Diaspora engage in medical programs or events
in Armenia, including the Second International Medical Congress of
Armenia, what they bring to the table is much more than their
expertise and donated time; they bring a level of compassion and
understanding that makes their efforts all the more far-reaching.

Q- Do you believe that, given adequate public and/or private support,
Armenia has what it takes to contribute to medical science, in terms
of research and development of life-saving drugs?

A- Absolutely. In the past, there has been noteworthy pharmacological
research and development in Armenia. We know the capacity is
there. The missing ingredient is investment.

Q- What are some of the significant experiences you’ve gained from
your tenure as Health Minister on the one hand, and Director of the
Arabkir Joint Medical Center & Institute of Child and Adolescent
Health on the other?

A- Back in the years when I served as the Minister of Health, the
country’s healthcare system was in a shambles. The infrastructure was
more or less dysfunctional, and we had to deal with an enormous number
of war casualties. Given the dire economic circumstances, our options
were quite limited. What we did have was our tenacity, our will to
life. As Minister of Health, I explored every conceivable possibility
to start rebuilding Armenia’s healthcare system, and I learned quite a
bit during my official visits abroad. By 1995, these efforts led to
some fundamental healthcare projects supported by the World Bank. My
three challenges as Minister were to manage the country’s healthcare
system, to continue acquiring knowledge and seeking guidance, and to
help build that system on such a solid foundation that my successors
wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Following my tenure as Minister,
I turned my attention to the establishment of the Arabkir Medical
Center, which in time evolved into a model medical institution. We
instituted a continuing education program for doctors and nurses of
the Center. We were able to obtain modern medical equipment and
tools. We created a patients’ family house next to the Arabkir Medical
Center for patients coming to us from the distant regions. We
established a hospital school and provided psycho-social services. In
addition, we gradually began opening branches in the remote regions of
Armenia for the development and rehabilitation of children with
physical and mental disorders. Parallel to all these activities we
created social programs for our employees as well: we organized a
kindergarten for the children of workers, provided health insurance
for all our staff, etc. Today the Arabkir Medical Center is Armenia’s
leading medical institution of pediatrics. What started as a small
project has now grown into a full-fledged medical establishment
providing comprehensive healthcare: from diagnostics, treatment, and
prevention of diseases to kidney transplantation and rehabilitation.
We achieved all this step by step, demonstrating the fact that great
things can be done in Armenia today, given enough dedication and
resourcefulness.

Q- What are some of the urgent measures that you wish to take as
Chairman of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Health Care, and
Environment of the Parliament of Armenia?

A- All of my priorities are top priorities. I’ll mention a few. High
on the agenda are the goals of helping make healthcare in Armenia both
more affordable and more effective, and raising the health awareness
of the Armenian public. An underlying goal is to bring a war-ravaged
populace out of the clutches of poverty on the one hand, and
demoralization on the other. We must also launch or bolster existing
programs that improve the lives of persons with physical and mental
disabilities. We must safeguard their rights, create opportunities for
education and employment, and help eradicate the social stigma
attached to disabilities. In the environmental sphere, I would like
to see new measures that ensure ecologically-conscious economic
development, in a way that growth does not take place at the expense
of public health and the beautiful Armenian environment.

Q- What advice would you give to an Armenian youth considering to go
into the medical field today?

A- Based on my experience at the Arabkir Medical Center alone, I know
for a fact that we have a great number of capable, conscientious,
dedicated youths who would make wonderful doctors or nurses. The
following is what I tell them, and I would give the same advice to
anyone considering a career in medicine: while top-notch education and
ongoing training are key to becoming a good healthcare professional,
perhaps the most important factor in becoming a great practitioner is
to be spiritually devoted to the calling.

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