The Armenian EyeCare Project primarily works in communities where people are socially vulnerable and where there is a high level of poverty, particularly among older people. The EyeCare Project, in addition to working throughout the regions, is committed to providing eye care services to those who live in nursing homes and are often beneficiaries of other social institutions in Yerevan.
Sadly, their living conditions barely cover their most essential needs and they have no funds for healthcare. The EyeCare Project’s assistance is the only way they are able to receive eye care — including eyeglasses —and care which prevents many of them from losing their eyesight.
Since the inception of the program, “Bringing Sight to Armenian Eyes,” the EyeCare Project has organized a number of screenings in different senior centers and social institutions throughout Armenia. Thousands have been screened and more than 2,000 older Armenians who needed a thorough, complex examination after their initial screening, were referred to the Mobile Eye Hospital in a nearby region.
In exceptional cases the Mobile Eye Hospital was driven to a community center or to a nursing home so it could be stationed nearby and have closer access to the patients. Through the program the EyeCare Project provided laser treatment or surgery for 200 older people to avoid blindness — 80 percent of all blindness is preventable or treatable. In addition, more than 1,000 of the patients have received new prescription eyeglasses.
For older people who often have no hope and could never afford to visit an eye doctor or receive something as seemingly simple as new eyeglasses, the Armenian EyeCare Project is changing lives and making people smile!
EyeCare Project Works in Orphanages and Day Care Centers
For many years the EyeCare Project has been dedicated to reaching out to the most vulnerable citizens of Armenia to provide them with needed eye care. While the majority of EyeCare Project programming focuses on the marzes throughout Armenia, there is a population of socially vulnerable young people living in Yerevan and other major cities such as Gyumri and Vanadzor who need care.
These young people may live full-time in orphanages or visit daycare centers where they receive social services that their families cannot provide. The Project retains a strong commitment to providing care for these orphanages and daycare centers that remain vulnerable, with little or no access to eye care.
The EyeCare Project’s programming at orphanages and day care centers remains an important part of the Project’s work because they are often the only opportunity for children with a number of health challenges to access health care. Children with disabilities remain one of the most at-risk and vulnerable groups in Armenia and they often grow up in orphanages because their parents are unable to provide the care they need. While this challenge is being addressed by many community organizations, children with disabilities are at an increased risk for having vision problems, making eye care to this group a top priority for the EyeCare Project.
From 2004 to 2016, the AECP organized free eye screening for almost 5,000 children and young people in orphanages, boarding schools, summer camps and daycares in Yerevan and other cities. Through these screenings eyeglasses were provided to about half the children and many underwent other procedures or treatment. The Project works with many partners including organizations and individual donors to fund its work in orphanages and day care centers.
Hakop Melkonyan, 4-years-old, Receives Care. Hakop Melkonyan of Gyumri, age 14, underwent surgery in 2017, but his story begins long before his surgery when he was screened at the Gyumri Social Childcare Center. His screening was part of an EyeCare Project program to perform eye screenings in orphanages and social and residential institutions. Of the 50 children screened by the Project’s ophthalmologist at the Gyumri Social Childcare Center, 17 of them, including Hakop, were identified as having eye disorders and diseases.
Hakop, along with several other children, received prescription medicines after the screening that were intended to eliminate the constant tearing from his left eye. However, the medication did not resolve Hakop’s problem and the ophthalmologist suggested that he undergo a special eye examination at the Malayan Eye Center in Yerevan.
In May 2015, Hakop visited the Malayan Eye Center and was diagnosed with acute purulent dacryocystitis. He needed a procedure that treats tearing due to blockage of the nasolacrimal duct surgery — an endoscopic dacryocystorhinostomy or DCR. According to the surgeon, if not treated, the purulent process would result in purulent keratitis and potentially lead to blindness.
Hakop is eligible for free medical treatment because of his disability, Infant Cerebral Palsy, but DCR is classified as a plastic surgery and costs more than $650.00. Hakop lives with his mother and grandmother who all live on a combination of Hakop’s and his grandmother’s pensions. Neither were enough to pay for Hakop’s surgery.
When this challenge was presented the Project negotiated with the Malayan Hospital for a discount on Hakop’s surgery and was able to find a donor who would sponsor the surgery. Thus, Hakop’s surgery was performed in the Malayan Hospital on August 4, 2015.
Despite lifelong health problems, Hakop is a very bright boy. He likes to play football with his friends and at the time of his surgery had dreams of becoming a computer programmer. He loves to rap and to sing Armenian national songs.
Ruzanna, Hakop’s mother, was very touched by people’s willingness to help her son, including monetary help from donors, the doctors themselves and the EyeCare Project staff. Ruzanna expressed her gratitude, saying, “I would love to thank the donors and all other benefactors for my boy’s treatment. We would have never been able to pay for it ourselves. His eye was getting worse every day, and the situation became worse with every small cold or sickness. Thank you all for saving my boy’s eyesight. Let God bless all the supporters and the good work you do.”
Hakop and his mother left the hospital with his medications and promised to follow doctor’s instructions. Back in Gyumri, the Project’s local ophthalmologist followed Hakop’s post-operative care and he had an excellent recovery with no further problems. He is now in college and studying to become a social worker.