YEREVAN—The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the AUA Turpanjian College of Health Sciences launched their first Community of Practice event titled “The Global Picture of COVID-19: Variants, Vaccines, and Emerging Science.” The webinar, which was held on March 3, brought together more than 120 specialists from the public health community across Armenia, including public health professionals, physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, and policy makers.
The Community of Practice program is a new virtual platform providing a space for participants to receive ongoing continuing education and support, practice their skills, and engage in open and up-to-the-minute discussions. This webinar created the first coming together open space for providers to discuss the global epidemiology of COVID-19, variants & vaccine coverage, lessons learned to date from both Armenia and the globe, and emerging science in terms of boosters, therapeutics, and other key preventive measures.
The event was organized by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the AUA Turpanjian College of Health Sciences in the scope of the National Case Investigation and Contact Tracing Program for the Republic of Armenia, which is being implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) of the Republic of Armenia.
The webinar was co-led by Dr. Alina Dorian, associate dean of Public Health Practice, associate professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, and the lead of the UCLA team, and Lusine Musheghyan, research associate and lecturer at the Turpanjian College of Health Sciences, and the co-lead of the AUA team.
The program featured professor of Medicine from the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Dr. Michael Reid. Dr. Reid is a board-certified infectious disease physician, whose work and research in infectious diseases has had global impact. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, his role has expanded to support COVID-19 related training and education activities across the state of California, and he now oversees a large pandemic-focused training initiative at UCSF.
During the webinar, Dr. Reid provided a general overview of global epidemiology of COVID-19, including infection trends and vaccination coverage updates, discussed the Omicron variant and the insights gained by the global public health community, and presented on the emerging science including vaccines and therapeutics.
Dr. Reid went on to discuss lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years. He emphasized that though the pandemic did not come as a surprise, even better-prepared countries experienced a large learning curve and encountered unexpected challenges and losses while trying to overcome its effects. He underscored four main recommendations to improve preparedness for the next pandemic including strengthening surveillance systems, focusing on a “one health” framework, acting on climate change, and re-thinking global governance.
The presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session where the participants had the opportunity to ask questions, engage with one another, share reflections, and provide relevant examples from their professional practice. As Dr. Reid described, “a Community of Practice event like this can have a transformative impact – for sharing emerging science, providing support and solidarity, and catalyzing health system improvements at all levels of the healthcare system.”
At the early days of the pandemic, the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the AUA Turpanjian College of Health Sciences combined their efforts to establish a collaborative initiative – the National Case Investigation and Contact Tracing Program for the Republic of Armenia. This initiative aimed to enhance the surge capacity of Armenia’s existing public health system and to help limit the spread and adverse effects of COVID-19 in Armenia.
The program grew to also offer professional development training opportunities and continuous education, as well as provide additional support for Armenia’s public health sector in collaboration with partner agencies and other associated sectors. The program also helps raise public awareness on COVID-19 and preventive measures and ultimately addresses the overall current and future public health needs of the country.
“The Community of Practice program is yet another addition to this initiative which will be held on an ongoing basis to bring together public health professionals and encourage a new, innovative, and interactive platform for collaborating, learning, and dialoguing,” said Daniela Abrahamian, program manager from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
“This is a great way for individuals across the globe to engage and share knowledge and resources, as well as build strong relationships and partnerships to effectively prepare for and combat current and forthcoming disasters, threats, and emergencies, while ensuring and promoting the health and well-being of all,” added Abrahamian.
The UCLA and AUA teams are committed to continuing ongoing training and scaling up the program in an effort to help Armenia address not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also prepare the country for a resilient future. This initiative is one of the many projects under the umbrella of the Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA, which aims to address the needs of Armenia and ensure the health and safety of the population.