“Young people believe that heart disease only affects the elderly, but they are wrong, and I really want this perception to change in Ukraine,” explains Dr Ilona Beglaryan, a cardiologist from Kyiv.
“We cannot see our heart, and that is why people tend to neglect it. We naturally pay more attention to visible parts of our bodies – such as our skin – and often forget that our internal organs require the same care,” she explains.
“Many patients will convince themselves and their families that they don’t require any treatment, which makes early detection and treatment by cardiologists even more difficult.”
Sharing her experience treating people’s hearts in Ukraine, Ilona highlights the importance of continuing medical education and the need for better investment in the next generation of cardiologists.
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular diseases, are the leading cause of death globally. In Ukraine, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and tobacco and alcohol use are becoming increasingly common among younger people, and NCDs account for 91% of deaths.
Cardiologists’ important work includes early detection, timely diagnosis and effective treatment of NCD risk factors – all of which can help prolong patients’ lives by decades. Investment in their training and education is crucial.
Continuing medical education
Ever since finishing her studies at the National Pirogov Memorial Medical University in Vinnytsya, Ilona has found it challenging to keep her skills up to date.
“The medical field keeps changing and technologies are continuously evolving. Books and articles that were relevant while I was at university are now outdated,” she shares.
“Although I find practical experience and interactions with patients to be extremely precious, it is equally important for myself and other health-care providers to find time to keep up with advances in medicine. I don’t want to offer patients outdated therapies that could further deter them from treatment.”
Investing in cardiologists and cardiology
Ilona speaks of the need for better investment in cardiology, especially if we are to keep the health gains we have made over the years.
“I consider myself relatively lucky, because thanks to my language skills I can access lots of information resources, while many of my colleagues continue to struggle to get to this knowledge,” Ilona explains. “One way to fix this would be to provide more opportunities to study foreign languages while in university.”
More resources should also be provided for cardiology health centres, Ilona adds, especially in small cities and rural areas.
“Today, some treatment and diagnostic options are only available in big Ukrainian cities, which complicates access to timely treatment for those living in remote areas. This situation should be changed.”
Heart health during the pandemic
It goes without saying that the pandemic has had serious effects on the treatment and diagnosis of heart conditions, Ilona admits.
“With lockdowns and strict measures, patients simply preferred to stay home, even if they actually had good reasons to go see a doctor. Unfortunately, in some cases, this ended up worsening their condition and complicating their treatment.”
Ilona also speaks of cases in which people refused hospitalization due to their fear of contracting COVID-19.
“This means that sometimes we had to make very difficult decisions on how to manage a cardiac problem, sticking to the necessary precautions while respecting patients’ wishes,” she explains.
The year 2021 has been designated the International Year of Health and Care Workers in appreciation and gratitude for their unwavering dedication in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. This story was developed by the WHO Country Office in Ukraine with financial assistance from the European Union, and is part of a series of stories showcasing Ukrainian health-care workers.