JAN. 10, 2007 | The two wall clocks hanging side by side in the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) office at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) are both practical and symbolic.
The clocks represent a productive 13-year relationship between UAMS and Volgograd, Russia, whose leaders have adopted the UAMS AHEC system as a model for their health care reform. The clocks – one set at Little Rock time and the other at Volgograd time – also are handy references when communicating with Volgograd, which is nearly 6,000 miles and nine time zones from Little Rock.
Two other clocks hang similarly in Volgograd’s newest medical clinic – the Russian American Clinic – which was dedicated recently at a ceremony attended by UAMS’ Charles O. Cranford, D.D.S., vice chancellor for Regional Programs. As director of the AHEC program, Cranford has been the point person for UAMS since Volgograd asked for UAMS’ help in developing a family medicine program.
Over the years, Cranford has been a consultant, mentor and friend as he and other UAMS faculty and staff helped Volgograd Medical Academy establish family medicine and residency programs. He has overseen numerous faculty exchanges that included extended visits by Russian doctors who want to learn our medical treatments. Angelina Levitskaya, a native Russian now employed by UAMS, has provided great assistance.
“Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, is the largest city in southern Russia, but its health care in the mid 1990s was just recovering from Communist governmental policies and control,” Cranford said. “During our early visits we found they were using medical technology, equipment and treatments that were not consistent with the standards of U.S. medicine.”
With UAMS’ help, medical care in Volgograd has made steady progress, although faced with a lack of money to fund improvements. The city took an exciting step forward in November when the medical academy opened the modern Russian American Clinic, named so people will know the clinic offers the latest medical treatments, Cranford said.
Volgograd’s doctors have shown a strong desire to learn western medical practices during their visits to Arkansas. “Medical textbooks were donated, and other educational materials were carried back to Volgograd,” Cranford said.
UAMS’ reputation reached Volgograd in 1993 when two visitors from El Dorado mentioned Arkansas’ innovative AHEC system to Volgograd officials after being told of their desperate need for family medicine physicians. Arkansas’ AHEC program, which now has seven centers throughout the state, has been a national model since it was established in the mid 1970s with leadership from Gov. Dale Bumpers.
Vladimir Petrov, M.D., rector of the Volgograd Medical Academy, learned that Arkansas’ AHEC system was created to address the same problem experienced in southern Russia – a lack of family medicine doctors to provide primary health care, especially in rural areas. Following a 1993 visit to UAMS by Petrov and a Russian Health Ministry official to observe the AHEC program, Cranford and Charles Smith, M.D., medical director for the UAMS Medical Center, went to Volgograd and negotiated a partnership agreement. Under the agreement, UAMS would train faculty from Volgograd Medical Academy and participate in an exchange program.
Since then, UAMS physicians have traveled to Volgograd to lecture on family medicine, tuberculosis management and other medical topics. In Arkansas, Russian doctors and nurses trained in family medicine at the AHECs, UAMS Medical Center and the Arkansas Division of Health. No state funds have been used in the partnership, but grants from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the American International Health Alliance (AIHA), a Washington, D.C.-based agency that administers international health care exchanges for USAID. Additional funds have been received from the U.S. Department of Commerce SABIT program and from the Fogarty Center at the National Institutes of Health.
Russian officials have formally expressed their appreciation for Cranford’s efforts. On the 10th anniversary of the partnership, Volgograd Mayor Y.V. Chekhov issued a proclamation recognizing Cranford’s “contribution in the development of science, economic and social partnerships between the City of Volgograd and the City of Little Rock (USA), and his dedication and involvement in implementation of the tuberculosis control and family medicine programs in the City of Volgograd.”