Disease control and prevention training for primary healthcare workers

UNICEF and the Ministry of Health continue to build the capacity of healthcare workers on vaccination with the support of USAID.

Gor Petrosyan
Հիվանդությունների կանխարգելման վերաբերյալ վերապատրաստումներ բուժաշխատողների համար:
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Ghazaryan
10 June 2022

Looking back, we all agree that the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives. But how exactly? In Armenia, from an average citizen to physicians and scientists, everyone had to learn to live by the new precautionary measures. At first, people were concerned, in panic, and wanted to make sense of what was happening. That was followed by a great deal of doubt whether it will be possible to find the means, medication or vaccine, to put an end to the pandemic and save this civilization from a virus that has paralyzed life. This was followed by a bout of cheer every time a new vaccine was announced, in parallel to a wave of questions on what kind of vaccine it is, how effective or reliable it will be, what are its side effects, who is it recommended for, and so on. Pretty soon, myths about vaccines started spreading at lightning speed, creating a wall between evidence-based medicine and fears in the society.

ՅՈւՆԻՍԵՖ-ի Առողջապահության և սնուցման ծրագրի ղեկավար Լիանա Հովակիմյանը
UNICEF Armenia/2021/Galstyan

“Evidence-based information from reliable sources is key to preventing and countering the spread of myths and related panic. Mass media and social media networks are important; however, nothing really replaces human interaction face to face, and it is crucial to get this information from healthcare workers first-hand. Which is why with the onset of the pandemic, UNICEF worked with the Ministry of Health to develop and implement several rounds of training for healthcare providers in primary healthcare clinics, including with the support of USAID, that would help them improve service quality, properly respond to concerns and questions about COVID-19, and prevent vaccine hesitancy,”

noted Liana Hovakimyan, UNICEF Health Specialist.

From 2021 to 2022, UNICEF, with the support of USAID and together with the Ministry of Health and the National Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has trained over 10,000 healthcare providers from primary healthcare facilities across the country in COVID-19 vaccination. According to Gayane Sahakyan, Head of the National Immunization Program, the trainings were initially online, which was beneficial in terms of the number of participants but did not allow the same participants to freely engage in discussion, share their own experience, ask questions.

Հիվանդությունների կանխարգելման վերաբերյալ վերապատրաստումներ բուժաշխատողների համար:
ՀՀ առողջապահության նախարարություն

“As the epidemic situation stabilized, it became possible to move the training courses from the online domain to that of offline, which is much more efficient. Both in the regions and the capital city, these three-day trainings are organized for small groups of participants to enable the facilitators and trainers to engage in depths to address all questions, concerns and cases that the participating doctors would bring,”

noted Mrs. Sahakyan.

Mrs Sahakyan also notes that the content of the training sessions has changed over the past year to respond to priority issues taking into account the changing context of the pandemic in Armenia. “There was a time that the key objective of the training sessions was to offer knowledge about specific vaccines, in other times we focused more on the vulnerable groups of the population and how to work with them, or how to organize and benefit from mobile vaccination units.” Currently, the training sessions focused on communication skills and key messages related to immunization, vaccines, from technology to application, and booster vaccinations.

Հիվանդությունների կանխարգելման վերաբերյալ վերապատրաստումներ բուժաշխատողների համար:
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Ghazaryan

“The vast majority of professionals that I have had the chance to interact with during our training sessions are highly proficient in the types of vaccines, their shelf life, dosages, how to deal with potential post-vaccination outcomes. They have an abundancy of information to share with patients and people who visit the polyclinic, but at times lack communication skills to convey key messages to them. Some are not sure how to have that conversation with patients who are hesitant to get vaccinated or trust misinformation. We have spent considerable time discussing how to answer questions and handle misinformation related fears,”

shared Mary Ter-Stepanyan, Associate Professor at the Department of Epidemiology of the YSU

Apart from coronavirus, the group of doctors also discuss the risks associated with other vaccine-preventable diseases. “Especially now in a pandemic, children’s routine vaccinations within the National Immunization Calendar should not be ignored. We already know that, for instance, in Ukraine, a polio-free zone in the recent past, instances of the disease have already been registered, as well as in Tajikistan. In the same way, there are no cases of polio in Armenia, but this does not mean that it cannot come back. By failing immunization rates, we will create favourable conditions for this and other diseases to find their way back,” noted Dr Ter Stepanyan.

Հիվանդությունների կանխարգելման վերաբերյալ վերապատրաստումներ բուժաշխատողների համար:
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Ghazaryan

While Ms Ter-Stepanyan is talking about communication tools, Samvel Ayrumyan, MD, cardiologist and family doctor, is discussing evidence-based data on vaccines in a parallel session in the next room, highlighting the importance of continuous learning for medical professionals. Amidst a heated discussion, some of the participants refer to stories of patients who have been quite hesitant to get their vaccines.

Ekaterina Bejanyan, left, and Karine Gevorgyan, middle, paediatricians at Polyclinic N9 in Yerevan, underline the importance of immunization programmes not only for children and adults, but also for the healthcare system and the country. 

Հիվանդությունների կանխարգելման վերաբերյալ վերապատրաստումներ բուժաշխատողների համար:
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Ghazaryan
Եկատերինան և Կարինեն ձախից-աջ առաջին երկու կանայք են:

“What is more sensible: prevent the diseases or fight its consequences?” asks Dr. Bejanyan, while Dr. Gevorgyan adds: “Sometimes the conversation gets very hard with a parent who is refusing to vaccinate her child. Believe me, I’ve seen many cases when our compassion and efforts to support parents to make an evidence-based decision pay off, and caregivers change their minds and come back to the polyclinic.”

UNICEF will continue delivering the training sessions by September 2022. In parallel to the capacity building for healthcare professionals, with USAID support, UNICEF has also delivered three new walk-in cold rooms to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as 80 refrigerators and 285 freezers that have been distributed to 250 primary health care facilities across the country, enhancing availability of vaccines for all communities. In the next few months, USAID and UNICEF will also deliver 210 freezers, including five ultracold freezers, and 110 refrigerators.

This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government