Armenian Doctors on the Frontline

Armenian Doctors on the Frontline

The 2020 Aurora Dialogues Online event titled “Armenian Doctors on the Frontline” took place on August 27, 2020 and focused on the Armenian healthcare professionals working in developing countries, specifically in war zones and remote areas of the world. Three doctors shared their experience and spoke about the risks it involved and the challenges they faced as they worked with limited resources in substandard conditions. 

The “Armenian Doctors on the Frontline” discussion was organized in cooperation with the Futures Studio discussion platform and moderated by Armen Minassian, MD.

Dr. Karen Koloyan, Head of the Pediatric Orthopedics Service at Wigmore Clinic, reminisced about late 1980s and early 1990s and the consequences of the Spitak Earthquake that resulted in a collaboration between Armenian and foreign doctors. When Armenia regained independence in 1991, the boarders were open, and healthcare workers had an opportunity to travel to volunteer and study. During this period, Dr. Koloyan worked in many developing countries. Today, he lives in Armenia but goes on frequent missions to Honduras where for the last 12 years he has been treating patients in San Pedro Sula, one of the most criminal cities in the world. “With a population of 6-7 million, this country had only one trained pediatric orthopedist, and Cambodia, for instance, had none at all. One of the most important elements of our mission is the work with local doctors. By training one or two of them, you are able to save thousands of lives. I have never pursued recognition. I draw my inspiration from helping children, especially when I see severely disabled children get a second chance at leading a complete life. On top of that, you teach, train, and serve as an example for the next generation of pediatric orthopedists,” said Dr. Koloyan.

In 2017, obstetrician-gynecologist Armine Barkhudaryan was one of the three doctors who set out for the Nuba Mountains in Sudan to temporarily substitute for Tom Catena after he had been selected as one of the Aurora Humanitarians. Thanks to the volunteers’ help, Dr. Catena could go to Armenia where he was named the 2017 Aurora Prize Laureate. Dr. Barkhudaryan’s first mission had been to Kenya in 2016. During the discussion, she recalled many challenging days she had had but emphasized that saving lives gave her strength and motivation to continue: “I remember the day when I visited the rural areas close to the Somali-Kenyan border with Safari Doctors. Anything could have happened on the road as the al-Shabaab terrorist group often kidnaps people and carries out terrorist attacks in that area. There was a moment when armed people approached us and ordered us to get out of the car and turn to face the forest. I thought it was the end. Fortunately, nothing happened.”

When Tom Catena had to travel to Armenia again and needed someone to temporarily replace him in the Nuba Mountains, Armine Barkhudaryan, who was on a mission in Syria at the moment, talked about this opportunity to Armen Mkrtchyan, a fellow obstetrician-gynecologist. He was thrilled. Even being fully aware of all the dangers and mentally preparing for the worst possible scenario couldn’t keep Dr. Mkrtchyan away from the mission to Sudan. “I was so inspired by Dr. Tom Catena. To me, he is more than just a man. He is my hero, and I had no doubts about doing that. During the two and a half months of my mission there, many Armens and Armines were born. One woman even named her baby ‘Doctor Armen’! Another mother wanted to name her daughter Armen as I had literally brought her newborn back to life,” said Armen Mkrtchyan.

Summing up the discussion, Armen Minassian, the moderator, thanked the doctors for saving lives and sharing their stories: “You are the ambassadors of Armenia to the world. You are special, and I’m hopeful that you will inspire young doctors by your activities.” Dr. Minassian also encouraged everyone who knows selfless humanitarians helping others to nominate them for the 2021 Aurora Prize, which can be done until October 31, 2020.

You can watch the full video of the discussion below (in English).