During the EyeCare Project’s 12th medical mission to Armenia in the summer of 1998, AECP physicians discussed how their work in the country’s capital could be expanded to serve people living in outlying regions. Alex Malayan, Chief of Surgery at the Republican Eye Hospital, Roger Ohanesian, Rick Hill and other AECP physicians talked about the great need for eye care in Armenia’s rural villages. They agreed that the best way to get proper eye care to all Armenians – not just the citizens of Yerevan – would be a “hospital-on-wheels.”
“The capital was doing very well. What we were worried about was the regions where two-thirds of the country lives,” said Dr. Ohanesian. “Many people having terrible blinding diseases cannot make it to the capital because of economic hardships or other obstacles. So, if we wanted to help prevent blindness, we needed to go to them. This was the genius of the idea for the Mobile Eye Hospital.”
The AECP knew it could make a sustainable difference in Armenian only if it provided medical training and education for Armenian physicians. The Mobile Eye Hospital (MEH) would make it possible for doctors in outlying towns and villages to observe the work of AECP-trained ophthalmologists. While training continues at the Republican Eye Hospital in Yerevan, the opportunity is rich, the doctors agreed, for using the hospital as a hub from which satellite units might be dispatched into regions with near-primitive facilities. In the past, the most sophisticated lasers’ fragility rendered them unmovable. But today, solid state, lightweight diode lasers are transportable, making it possible to take surgeries frequently performed in Yerevan to other regions.
Arrival in Armenia
In 2002, the holidays arrived early for the people living in the rural villages of Armenia. After traveling by boat, the Mobile Eye Hospital reached its destination in Yerevan on November 7, 2002. The MEH was the culmination of the efforts of more than 1,000 AECP volunteers and donors and, in the past eight years, has made available 21st Century eye care where it is most needed in Armenia.
Designed to travel throughout Armenia, including the remote countryside villages, the MEH delivers eye care to approximately 35,000 Armenians each year who are unable to travel to the capital city of Yerevan. They receive basic eye care, including annual screenings for glaucoma and eye glasses, as well as more advanced surgeries for cataract and other eye problems.
MEH physicians work to combat the unacceptably high rate of blindness and eye disease in Armenia, especially among children. Blindness is a terrible fate, yet, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 80 percent of all cases can be prevented or treated, resulting in the restoration of sight. The AECP program is targeted to reach those Armenians living outside Yerevan who have never seen an eye care specialist and children at risk for blindness before their 18th birthday due to a lack of prevention and treatment programs.
Time is a critical factor in treating eye disease, especially in children, and the AECP physicians do not want to miss their narrow window of opportunity to save an Armenian from blindness. Armenian children, particularly those aged six and under, suffer disproportionately higher than average rates of Strabismus, Glaucoma, Diabetic Retinopathy, Inflammatory Diseases, and Retinal Disorders. Blindness is a certainty unless they are treated immediately because their disease has such a rapid progression.
How It Works: A Day on the Mobile Eye Hospital
The MEH is a fully functional surgical suite on wheels. Supplied with the latest eye care equipment, it has two lasers in different rooms – one for examinations and another in the operating room. In addition to the patient care areas, there is also a lavatory, a utility room, and a “clean and dirty” room with a microwave, a sterilizer, sink and refrigerator. A 100-kilowatt generator provides the electricity. U.S. Code-compliant, the MEH includes integrated systems for telemedicine as well as a comprehensive medical gas system, nurse call system and data management system.
In the spring of 2003, patients – many of whom had never been inside a modern medical facility – began entering the imposing white-and-blue mechanical structure on a small set of stairs leading to interior examination and operating rooms. Some will exit with their sight restored. During those months when the harsh Armenian weather will make it difficult for patients to wait outside, a tent enclosure is used.
The MEH travels to communities where conditions are most critical. Patients are screened by the local clinic’s staff and then recommended on an as-needed basis for treatment at the mobile hospital. Initial visits will be scheduled for those who meet the government-designated “socially vulnerable” standards.
MEH Virtual Tour. Get on board and experience the Mobile Eye Hospital — take a tour of the surgical suite, exam rooms, and much more.
In 2002, the holidays arrived early for the people living in the rural villages of Armenia. After traveling by boat, the Mobile Eye Hospital reached its destination in Yerevan on November 7, 2002. The MEH was the culmination of the efforts of more than 1,000 AECP volunteers and donors and, in the past 14 years, has made available 21st Century eye care where it is most needed in Armenia.
The MEH, an amazing piece of equipment, is a fully functional surgical suite on wheels. Designed to travel throughout Armenia, including the remote countryside villages, The MEH delivers eye care to approximately 35,000 Armenians each year who are unable to travel to the capital city of Yerevan. They receive basic eye care, including annual screenings for glaucoma and eye glasses, as well as more advanced surgeries for cataract and other eye problems.
Weight: 14 tons
Space: 408 square feet
Length: 48 feet
Width: 8 feet, 6 inches
Height: 13 feet, 6 inches
Contains: One state-of-the-art operating room, Two fully-equipped exam rooms
Custom Built: Mobile Medical International, St. Johnsbury, Vermont