What do Armenia, nursing, HIV/AIDS and the United Nations have in common? Everything, if you are Graduate School of Nursing Instructor Carol Jaffarian, MS, RN. Stemming from her work with the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), Jaffarian was recently re-elected to her second term as secretary of the Committee on HIV/AIDS of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO) at the United Nations.
“I have always been active with Armenian organizations,” explained Jaffarian, whose mother and grandmother preceded her as members of the ARS, a non-governmental organization (NGO) currently celebrating its 100th anniversary. “As a nurse practitioner, I was honored to be the first person on the Committee’s executive committee with a medical background.”
Founded in 1948, CONGO is an independent, international, nonprofit membership association of non-governmental organizations. CONGO facilitates discussion of substantive matters by its members at the U.N. through special and ad hoc NGO committees—including the Committee on HIV/AIDS, which advocates for global action related to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Jaffarian’s tenure at the U.N. began in 2001, when the ARS first tapped her for her extensive experience treating HIV/AIDS patients as nurse manager of the UMass Memorial Medical Center HIV/AIDS Clinic. As an NGO that has consultative status at the United Nations, ARS is committed to the Millennium Development Goals set forth by the U.N. in 2000, which include halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015. “That was the one Millennium Development Goal the ARS had difficulty addressing, because none of their members had experience with HIV/AIDS. That’s how I became involved with the ARS and the U.N.,” Jaffarian recalled.
In June 2001, she received a phone call from her nurse colleague Penny Giragosian, MS, RN, who was active in the ARS and the U.N. “Her request was simple—that I present a ‘quick update on HIV infection’ during a panel discussion at the U.N.,” Jaffarian said. At the same time the ARS asked Jaffarian to speak at the panel discussion, it was planning the opening a Birthing Center at its Maternal-Child Clinic in Armenia, and knew that addressing HIV/AIDS would be an integral part of the project.
Sitting next to her on the U.N. panel was Sevak Avagyan, MD, former deputy health minister of Armenia and director of the ARS Maternal-Child Clinic. At dinner, she met ARS Board of Directors chairperson Maro Minassian. Both asked her to come to Armenia to help them set up an HIV education and prevention program at the clinic. As a result of this request, in 2003 Jaffarian and colleague Carol Bova, PhD, RN, associate professor of nursing, began their work on the HIV Education and Prevention Project, a collaborative effort between UMass Medical School and the ARS, funded by a grant from the World AIDS Foundation.
“Why Armenia? And, why address a ‘developing’ epidemic when the needs are so overwhelming in regions like Africa, where the HIV/AIDS epidemic is full-blown?” wrote Jaffarian and Dr. Bova in the Spring/Summer 2005 Vitae, UMass Medical School’s magazine. “Because it is in countries like Armenia, where incidence of the disease is not yet at the epidemic level, that grassroots efforts can curb the spread of infection before it reaches crisis proportions.”
Actively involved in HIV/AIDS education and prevention in Armenia ever since, Jaffarian and Bova were most recently awarded a UMMS Office of Global Health travel grant enabling them to return to Armenia to conduct a women’s health needs assessment, as requested by Dr. Avagyan and the staff of the ARS Maternal-Child Clinic and Birthing Center. They hope to obtain further grant funding to carry out this project. In turn, their ongoing activities in Armenia continue to inform Jaffarian’s and the committee’s work at the U.N., including collaborations with other NGOs. “By sharing our work with an international audience actively engaged in achieving mutual goals at the United Nations, we have reached more like-minded colleagues in more countries than we ever dreamed possible,” Jaffarian said.