Doctors, nurses and paramedics from Germany, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have been arriving in Armenia since the summer of 2020 to join hands with their peers and curb the spread of COVID-19. Armenia has recently faced challenges from both the pandemic and the armed conflict and is in heightened need of hands-on support to strengthen its COVID-19 response.
Emergency Medical Teams (EMT) are groups of health professionals who deploy rapidly from one country to another to treat patients affected by an emergency or disaster. The WHO initiative also helps to build local capacity and strengthen health systems through international exchange.
Empowered by frontline colleagues
Dr Naira Stepanyan is an infectious disease doctor and the deputy director of the National Center of Infectious Disease in Armenia. She treated the first COVID-19-infected patient in Armenia, registered on 1 March 2020. Dr Stepanyan told us that, even though her family has always been her primary source of motivation, during the pandemic, health care workers inspired her to overcome the difficulties she faced.
EMT support was also a source of encouragement for her, since she could discuss the practices used in other COVID-19 responses in the WHO European Region. “I became more self-confident as a result of working with the EMTs,” she said. “When you learn that high-level professionals from other countries use the same methods as you do, or they appreciate the work done locally, it gives additional motivation to continue doing your job and to improve it.”
Such missions are beneficial for both hosting countries and for the members of EMTs, since the exchange during a health emergency provides an opportunity to learn and share experiences with fellow health care colleagues. This is critical to advancing COVID-19 response knowledge across borders. “This is a two-way process,” stated Paul Ransom, an EMT member from the United Kingdom. “We share our knowledge with the Armenian medical workers and learn from their experience as well. There are some methods that are better in the United Kingdom and other methods that are better implemented in Armenia.”
WHO has also supported Armenia by delivering life-saving equipment, such as oxygen concentrators, electrocardiographs, polymerase chain reaction tests and ultrasound examination machines. They were purchased with the financial assistance of the European Union, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other WHO partners.
Dr Naira Stepanyan noted the importance of oxygen concentrators, which their medical center received as a result of this joint initiative, saying that they “help patients even psychologically”. Egor Zaitsev, WHO Representative in Armenia, underlined that from the very beginning of the pandemic, the goal of WHO was to ensure that health care workers received the necessary support. Technical advice and practical assistance were provided based on the country’s major needs. “2020 was a hard year, and the Armenian health care system overcame many challenges, becoming stronger and better prepared for the future. WHO in Armenia will stand strong with the country to ensure their success,” he said.
About Emergency Medical Teams
EMTs, a WHO initiative, are a global network of pre-qualified teams of doctors, nurses and paramedics skilled to provide medical assistance during emergencies. WHO classification means that the team has been accredited as compliant with international WHO standards for being proficient in the direct treatment of patients. The arrival of EMTs to Armenia was organized in cooperation with the European Union and the governments of its respective countries.