Anna Sakhkyan is perhaps not the most obvious person you would expect to find at a social innovation camp. After all, as the Head of the blood donor Registry at the Haematology center (named after R.H Yeolyan) in Yerevan, she is a busy health professional with, until recently, very little contact with the techie community.
And yet, Anna was the winner of last year’s Mardamej (Social Innovation Camp Armenia) with her proposal to create a nationwide virtual blood bank. We caught up with Anna at last week’s Hurilab in Yerevan and checked in on her progress.
How did you come up with the idea of a virtual blood bank?
This is a pressing problem in our country which I experience everyday in my practice, since we have no national registry, something which is quite common in other countries. This means that, for instance, if a relative of yours needs an urgent blood transfusion because they have been in an accident they can find it quite hard to locate a matching donor. In addition, the lack of a virtual registry can lead in certain instances to malpractice and lack of transparency.
How did you find out about the social innovation camp and what motivated you to take part?
Mardemej organizers came to what we call the “medical councilium,” a meeting where doctors discuss medical cases, and explained how social innovation can be applied to the health sector. I got inspired to take my idea out of the drawer and make my pitch!
So how long had you been thinking about the virtual blood bank before joining Mardamej?
Around a year. The lack of a central blood bank was really bothering me so I had done some research into how other countries like Norway or Canada handle the issue and I had put together an initial action plan. Until Mardamej, though, nobody listened! Many of my colleagues were skeptical too since they thought there would be not much interest in my proposal.
And yet, because I work every day in the frontline with blood donors, I knew that this was something that people feel passionately about. Surely enough, at the camp I pitched my idea to the participants and it turned out to be the most popular… so much so that we had to turn down a few potential team members! This was important for me because it validated my hunch that I was onto something that the public was genuinely interested in.
How did you keep the project going after the camp? After all, you have a full time job!
I worked with Armen, the IT specialist I met at the camp who really took the project to his heart, almost every day – either by skype or in person. We talked about the rules and restrictions around blood transfusion, privacy concerns, technical issues, etc. This went on for almost seven months now, and all on a volunteer basis! I really appreciate the contribution Armen made and I’m proud I have worked with him.
But now it seems that all this hard work is about to pay off?
Indeed! I am excited to report that in July we are going to present the web solution to the Ministry of Health. We could have not asked for a better reward for our efforts. We always envisaged that our solution would be ultimately adopted by the Ministry since they are best equipped to manage it and it fits nicely with the e-health strategy they adopted. If, fingers crossed, we will get their approval we will soon begin testing in 2 locations in Armenia.
What would be your advice to other citizens who want to take the initiative like you did?
First of all it is important to define your objective very clearly. Also, think about the bigger picture: Make sure you are aware of what is happening in the sector you want to transform. Finally, believe in your project and get as many people as possible to believe in it!
P.S. And finally I’d like to express my gratitude to all the people who made the project come true. I’m proud of each of them.