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The Armenian Eye Care Project (AECP)

By Jennifer Kimberley

Armenia is a small country tucked between Georgia to the north, Iran to the south, Azerbaijan to the east, and Turkey to the west. The Armenian people have had an eventful history involving earthquakes, wars, and genocide but have emerged from each disaster with their self-respect intact.

Most recently, there was a major earthquate in 1988 that killed at least 50,000 people and injured many thousands more. In that year also, war began between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan over a territorial dispute. It lasted for six years.

By 1991 Armenia had a major health care crisis and in 1992 the Armenian Minister of Health appealed to American eye doctors for help. Dr. Roger Ohanesian, an eye surgeon of Armenian parentage, responded to that appeal. On this page you can read how he founded the Armenian Eye Care Project (AECP). Together with his personal background, it makes a fascinating story.

Briefly, he has made over thirty trips to Armenia since 1992. His first trip was just days after reading the faxed appeal for help, and he took with him six living corneas that would last only days before they had to be used for corneal transplants. He also took $10,000 worth of supplies and medicines donated by drug companies, and a companion eye surgeon, Dr. Sarkis Soukiassian, whom he had known in Boston where he grew up.

Armenia in 1992

When the two eye surgeons arrived they found that electrical service was turned on for just an hour or two each day, and that food and fuel supplies had been virtually cut off by Azerbaijan and Turkey as part of the ongoing war. Bread lines were two blocks long each day. At midnight, the streets were filled with armed skirmishes.

Dr. Ohanesian met with Dr. Malayan, the Chief of Ophthalmology at the Republican Eye Hospital in Yerevan. For two weeks, he worked there, seeing up to 20 patients in each hour that the electricity was turned on. Running water was available for only one hour each day. The eye doctors might be in the midst of a surgery when the electricity suddenly went off and someone would run down seven stories to turn the generator on. He slept in his clothes on a hospital cot.

In that first visit the two ophthalmologists treated about 300 patients and performed 40 surgeries. Most of those people were war casualties and half of them were children. In that war, children were particularly targeted, being shot on school playgrounds.

Subsequent Trips to Armenia

After that first trip, Dr. Ohanesian returned with other doctors who specialized in eye diseases and reconstructive surgery. He has also taken more than $20 million in medical equipment. The American physicians have given training to Armenian doctors and helped them to set up Armenia’s first corneal eye bank, as well as a medical center in a remote area.

Activities of the AECP

When the AECP was founded in 1994, it began sponsoring patients to have medical treatment in the U.S. It also established six one-year fellowships for Armenian eye doctors to give them specialized training in eye conditions such as glaucoma, corneal-uveal diseases, and retinal problems.

One recent project was the construction of a Mobile Eye Hospital. It is designed to serve Armenians who would be otherwise unable to travel to any ophthalmologist’s office. So far it has made three complete trips through the country, performing over 350,000 eye exams and over 6,000 eye surgeries. About 3,000 of the surgeries have been laser vision correction.

For more details, you can read the dramatic stories of some of the AECP’s patients.

Donations to the AECP

You can contact the AECP at 1-866-448-2327. Their address is:

729 W 16th Street Suite A4
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

The AECP was incorporated in 2002 in Colorado. It is tax-exempt under section 501©(3) of the IRS code and your contribution will be tax deductible. It will also be highly appreciated, as there is much work still to be done in Armenia.

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