Building local capacity among rural health practitioners is critical in creating a healthier quality of life and maintaining the long-term sustainability of health services throughout the villages of Armenia. COAF has been instrumental in providing rural physicians and nurses with updated training, renovating several healthcare centers and health posts, providing critical equipment and furnishings and increasing the accessibility of medical services. Health education at an early age has been proven to lay the foundation for sustaining improvements in public health.
The following interventions constitute the core of COAF’s Health Program:
Health Promotion in Schools and Communities
COAF promotes basic preventive and primary healthcare as well as access to sustainable, high-quality medical services, including testing, diagnosis and follow-up care, particularly for children. Annual physical exams and screenings, along with eye screenings, are among the activities implemented on an annual or semi-annual basis.
School-based health education seminars focus mainly on healthy nutrition, general and oral hygiene, eye care, adolescent health and first aid, equipping the children with lifesaving information. Ten COAF-supported schools are members of the European Network of Health Promoting Schools which helps them utilize proven practices and tools of school health promotion through communication with their peers in Europe. The concept of Schools for Health in Europe (SHE) Program syncs with COAF’s health interventions at community and school levels, since it focuses on empowering teachers, students and parents to take initiative and implement their own programs for making schools healthier places. To support these strategies, COAF provides small grants to health-promoting schools belonging to the SHE network. Healthy lifestyle clubs functioning in rural schools are involved with the implementation of school health promotion events within the Health Promoting School program.
Knowledge fueled by action can transform future outcomes. The communities where COAF is involved are better informed on how to reduce health risks by smoking cessation, healthier diets and leading active lives. We also provide first aid training, effective use of medicines at home, dependent care and other topics relevant to village life. Healthcare professionals are trained to utilize each patient interaction as an opportunity to inform the patient about disease prevention strategies. COAF improves rural health through interactive and informative community-based health education. These workshops are conducted on a wide variety of topics and target many different groups.
School budgets allocated by the Armenian Ministry of Education and Sciences tend to be quite limited and school nutrition costs are excluded. Thus, COAF’s School Nutrition program seeds healthy habits and ensures better health for rural Armenian children by providing them with healthy food choices at school and implementing a series of health education activities. The latter includes capital renovation and refurbishment of school cafeterias, and provision of healthy lunches to all primary school children throughout the academic year. Supporting school nutrition programs is one of the ways COAF addresses malnutrition among children.
We also install hand-washing and tooth-brushing stations adjacent to school cafeterias. Children receive individual toothbrushes and cases from COAF in an effort to maintain regular tooth-brushing habits.
Education on healthy nutrition and hygiene is another inseparable part of the program. Through this effort children become increasingly aware of how proper nutritional choices can affect their health status later in life. As a result, youth develop healthy attitudes and behaviors at an early age.
The dental care program is directed to combat dental caries among rural children in preschool and primary school. We aim at decreasing the prevalence of tooth decay among rural children by implementing our multidimensional program through education, prevention and treatment.
COAF’s implementation of the brushodrome concept is another innovative solution in addressing poor dental hygiene. Brushodromes are school-based tooth-brushing stations where children learn how to properly brush their teeth on a daily basis under the supervision of a school nurse. Most rural households in Armenia have limited access to running water. COAF-sponsored schools are often the only places in these communities where running water is available. The school is where students are able to wash their hands before lunch and brush their teeth after eating, thereby developing life-long habits. Brushodromes are widely utilized in villages and have become highly popular among children.
COAF seeks to ensure that health needs of children are addressed starting from early pregnancies. Informing and empowering mothers is critical to improving the health of families and entire communities. Prenatal vitamins are distributed to all pregnant and breastfeeding women. We facilitate a number of Healthy & Happy Motherhood activities, including classes that address issues from proper breastfeeding to prenatal exercises, and child development.
COAF initiatives have been increasing the number of trained midwives and ensuring that staff are equipped with necessary resources, tools and information. On a bi-annual basis, medical teams screen and administer PAP and thyroid tests and conduct breast exams for all women, supporting general reproductive health and family planning.
In rural Armenia, the healthcare system traditionally responds only to acute problems, urgent needs and pressing concerns. Lacking basic diagnostic tools and untrained in modern methodologies for prevention and treatment, doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers are often ill-equipped to handle certain basic primary care cases. We work to improve primary health services in rural Armenia through supportive supervision, continuous medical education and networking among health practitioners.
COAF’s staff physicians relay critical medical knowledge, providing administrative guidance and working side-by-side with doctors in village clinics. COAF facilitates the training of local primary care physicians with the purpose of updating them on developments in various primary care fields such as pediatrics, and also exposing them to basics in certain areas of specialization, such as dermatology, cardiology, emergency medicine, neurology, endocrinology and OB/GYN, enabling local family doctors to manage more cases in their clinics.
Building connections between medical practitioners not only improves their clinical abilities through knowledge and experience sharing, but also encourages camaraderie and unity within the profession, motivating healthcare providers to be more effective in their jobs. An inter-village network for rural physicians has been created with regular professional gatherings providing interactive forums in which village physicians consult with each other on cases, and provide critical information to fellow peers on their various areas of expertise, thereby building an expanded professional rural medical community.
COAF looks for effective ways in which its programs are sustained over time, especially after exiting from beneficiary villages. Local capacity development is one of the mechanisms utilized for this purpose. In recent years, transfer of existing programs to local doctors has been put into practice:
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