Cancer Care in Armenia

Feb 26, 2014

  Gevorg Tamamyan, MD
: Muratsan
Hospital Complex of
Yerevan State Medical
Member since: 2013
Specialties: Hematology,
pediatric oncology

ASCO Connection checked in with past Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO International Development and Education Award (IDEA) recipient Gevorg Tamamyan, MD, of Muratsan Hospital Complex of Yerevan State Medical University in Armenia, to see how this ASCO initiative aimed at expanding oncologists’ knowledge and skills through training and relationship building has affected him professionally and helped to improve cancer care in Armenia. 

AC: What is the current state of cancer care in Armenia?
Dr. Tamamyan: Armenia is a very beautiful country with a peaceful and warm people. It is one of the oldest civilizations in the world; however, the independent Republic of Armenia’s history counts for only approximately 23 years. During last two decades, there were many problems in Armenia: a devastating earthquake, wars, closed borders, a crashed economy, to name some of the major issues. Of course, these all affected the health care system as well.

Health care in Armenia is considered to be free, but the money which is invested in medicine and the oncology field is not much for covering even the basic expenses. This is quite a bad tradition coming from the former Soviet Union. The situation is somewhat better in pediatric hematology/oncology because of some charitable foundations. For 20 years, Stiftung Hilfe für Armenien (a German foundation) has provided most of the free chemotherapy drugs for children with cancer. Other foundations—including Nvirir Kyanq (“Give a Life”), led by the First Lady of Armenia; Ognem; and Aram—cover other drugs and diagnostic procedures. Today the average survival rate for childhood cancers in Armenia is about 70%, but, of course, there are many things to do. There is no bone marrow transplantation in Armenia, and there are still many gaps in diagnostics and different types of treatment.

AC: What led you to pursue oncology as a career?
Dr. Tamamyan: From my early childhood, I wanted to become a doctor. However, despite the extremely difficult work that doctors do in Armenia, they are not highly regarded; I think every medical student who enters the university and becomes closer to these problems asks the same question: “To be, or not to be, a doctor?” But I am lucky because along the way I have met wonderful people. The decision to be a pediatric hematologist/oncologist was because of my teacher, Dr. Samvel Danielyan. He’s an amazing person, the kindest doctor, and the best teacher and chief. Dr. Danielyan has devoted his life to treating childrenwith catastrophic diseases—he and his great team have helped the survival rate of childhood leukemia in Armenia increase from 0% to more than 70%.

AC: How did the IDEA help you professionally and affect care in Armenia?
Dr. Tamamyan: It was wonderful! First of all, you feel so proud, responsible, and inspired that such a prominent organization like ASCO gives you an award. It means you were chosen to make a change. Second, it is a great opportunity to be presented the award at the ASCO Annual Meeting and see the most famous professionals from all over the world. This gives you not only professional, but individual and spiritual development. From a medical prospective, of course, there were a lot of things to learn at the Meeting that could be used in Armenia. Another great opportunity was the Extended Tour Award just after Meeting, where I spent time at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie  Children’s Hospital in Chicago in their Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, under the supervision of the kindest doctors—Yasmin Gosiengfiao and Jennifer Reichek. Even during that short period of time, I learned a lot from them and the people working there.

Dr. Tamamyan with patients at “Muratsan” Hospital Complex of Yerevan State Medical University.  

AC: You are currently planning a Multidisciplinary Cancer Management Course (MCMC) to be held in Armenia. What are your goals for this course?
Dr. Tamamyan:
Despite the fact that many doctors use international protocols and guidelines, the multidisciplinary cancer management teams are lacking. I am hopeful that this course will change the situation and will be the cornerstone for this practice. This course will help us make changes, but it will also help make the Armenian oncology community closer to ASCO. We hope to be able to create an efficient tumor board with the involvement of ASCO’s leading professionals and Armenian doctors.

AC: What do you see as the role for organizations such as ASCO to support career development and cancer care in your country and region?
Dr. Tamamyan:
In Armenia, as well as in our region, I think ASCO can have a leading role for the development of cancer care in terms of training doctors and nurses, involving our region in different research projects and trials, organizing more meetings here, involving our professionals in different projects, and providing support with valuable advice.

AC: Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Dr. Tamamyan:
Smile and the world will smile with you. And I am sure the world will smile with Armenia too.


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