AAHPO Gala Banquet to be Held in NJ

Fundraising Efforts Dedicated to Continuing Medical Education in Armenia

As a physician at the Ninotsminda Emergency Center, Dr. Lilit Ananikyan spends her days performing surgeries, checking in on her patients, and treating the ill in this Armenian-populated district in the Javakhk region of southern Georgia. Serving in an under-staffed and under-resourced hospital, Ananikyan and her colleagues face a multitude of obstacles on a daily basis, including lack of heat during the harsh winter months, outdated ambulance cars, and a scarcity of medical supplies. But perhaps the biggest challenge of all is the inability to update one’s medical training. Many of the doctors, not only in Javakhk, but also in Nagorno-Karabagh and rural Armenia, have not received additional training or courses to update their knowledge of medicine since the collapse of the Soviet Union some 20 years ago.

Graduates of the CME program together with AAHPO healthcare professionals and medical mission participants

Through the support of the Armenian American Health Professional Organization’s (AAHPO) partnership with the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR), Ananikyan and other doctors in Javakhk and Karabagh are overturning this trend by participating in AAHPO’s Continuing Medical Education (CME) program.

“I could not believe such a humanitarian project could exist,” said Ananikyan, the manager of the medical ambulatory department at the Ninotsminda Emergency Center. “It was a great opportunity to deepen my professional knowledge.”

With the positive impact the program has had on healthcare delivery in Armenia, AAHPO is dedicating its upcoming annual gala banquet to raising funds to expand the program to Javakhk and Karabagh.

The theme of this year’s banquet is “Help Save Lives! Support the Continuing Medical Education of Doctors in Armenia,” and will take place on Sat., Oct. 15 at the Marriott at Glenpointe in Teaneck, N.J. The evening will also serve as an opportunity to honor Dr. Richard Babayan, Annette Choolfaian, RN, MPA, and Dr. Haikaz Grigorian for their various achievements and contributions in the medical field.

The fall of the Soviet Union dealt a blow to the healthcare system in Armenia. And since the founding of the Armenian Republic, no government regulations requiring doctors to keep their medical knowledge up-to-date have been implemented.

“In the Armenian-populated regions of Nagorno-Karabagh and Javakhk, there are no mechanisms or funding for updating doctors’ medical skills” said Dr. Cazazian, a member of AAHPO’s Board of Directors. “Ninety percent of the doctors have not received further medical education in the past 15 years.”

The CME program currently supports 30 physicians a year, yet hundreds are waiting to participate in this invaluable opportunity.

“Medicine is progressive,” said Dr. Raffy Hovanessian, a member of AAHPO’s Board of Directors. “This continuing medical education program is vital because it is of utmost importance to update the quality of healthcare in Armenia, Javakhk, and Nagorno-Karabagh.”

The money AAHPO raises for the CME month-long program in Yerevan covers tuition expenses, lodging, and a stipend for doctors who are taking time off from their work. Over the course of four weeks, the physicians participate in intensive programs in their specialty in leading medical centers as well as universities and advanced clinics in Yerevan. They learn modern medical skills, such as Cesarean section techniques and the acute treatment of heart attacks, that will have immediate impact when they return to their home villages.

“Continuing medical education is a requirement that we take for granted here in the USA”, said Dr. Tsoline Kojaoghlanian, also a member of AAHPO’s Board of Directors. “It is even more crucial to introduce and maintain it in areas of most need.”

Aside from enhancing their medical skills, participating doctors also have the opportunity to network, take computer literacy courses, and take part in teleconferences. At the conclusion of the program, participants will have completed an independent research project and received a certificate of completion signed by the Ministry of Health.

“This program provided me with a significant amount of information about medicine and new technologies,” said Dr. Irina Khachatryan, who works in the Stepanakert Children’s Hospital. “It inspired me to continue to improve our health service quality.”

Members of AAHPO themselves have seen first-hand the effect the program has had on physicians. Dr. Larry Najarian, the president of AAHPO, traveled to Armenia during the AAHPO medical mission this past summer and met the graduates of the CME program.

“It was a very moving, humbling experience,” said Najarian. “Seeing and understanding the circumstances in which they work was sobering and inspires us to help. CME is a ray of hope that provides knowledge and saves lives.”

AAHPO is in its 17th year serving the Armenian American community. Its mission is to improve healthcare awareness, increase disease prevention and early detection, foster fellowship and career development of Armenian healthcare professionals, and provide medical support and education to both the local communities and Armenia.

“We are saving lives by training these doctors,” said Cazazian. “The continuation of this program for many years to come is crucial.”

AAHPO’s 2011 Gala Banquet and Fundraiser will take place on Sat., Oct. 15 at the Marriot at Glenpointe, on 100 Frank W. Burr Boulevard in Teaneck, N.J. Cocktails will be served at 6:30 p.m., and dinner at 7:30 p.m. Vartan Abdo will serve as master of ceremonies. Donations are $150. To RSVP by mail, include a list of names of the attendees along with a check made out to “AAHPO,” and mail to AAHPO, P.O. Box 645, Far Hills, N.J. 07931. RSVP’s can also be submitted online at www.aahpo.org.

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Taleen Babayan

Taleen Babayan earned her masters in journalism from Columbia University in 2008 and her bachelors degree in history and international relations from Tufts University in 2006. Her work has been published widely in both Armenian and non-Armenian media. She can be contacted at babayant@gmail.com

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