USAID Visits Mobile Eye Hospital

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, the EyeCare Project’s Mobile Eye Hospital pulled over on the side of the Ararat Highway and prepared for a site visit from high-ranking U.S. government officials.  The purpose of the visit was to view the activities of “The Primary and Ophthalmological Health Care Alliance,” a joint USAID-AECP effort designed to increase the utilization of sustainable, high-quality primary healthcare services in Armenia and ultimately, to eliminate preventable blindness in the country.

Proud to be singled out as a success story of USAID/AECP cooperation, the EyeCare Project had the opportunity to demonstrate a U.S. government assistance project in operation.  Its state-of-the-art mobile eye hospital provides eye care to Armenians throughout the country with all its patients, regardless of their financial situation, receiving eye screenings at no charge.

“I am much honored to be here and to see the work you are doing,” said Thomas Adams, Coordinator for U.S. Assistance to Europe and Eurasia (EUR/ACE), as he embarked on the AECP Mobile Eye Hospital, on April 29, 2006, to observe its activities with his US-Armenia Task Force.

Adams and the US-Armenia Task Force (USATF) delegation — a semi-annual meeting of officials from the U.S. State Department and the Government of Armenia — were greeted by the AECP, led by In-Country Director, Nune Yeghiazaryan, and Medical Director, Dr. Alexander Malayan.  Also on-hand for the big day was Dr. Anna Hovakimyan, AECP Fellow; Dr. Asatur Hovsepyan, Director of the Mobile Eye Hospital; Dr. Marianne Shahsuvaryan, AECP Medical Education Director; and Dr. Tigran Kostanyan.

Yeghiazaryan mentioned that although most of Armenia’s residents are familiar with the MEH, they are always taken aback when they see the 14-ton, 48-foot moving eye hospital in person.  Adams agreed.  “This huge truck is very much impressive itself,” he said.  “I am amazed at the high quality medical care being given here.”

Joining Adams on the site visit were Ara Barsam, Public Information Officer at USAID Armenia; Catherine Newcombe, U.S. Department of Justice; Elizabeth Paltrow, Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Armenia; and Kami Witmer, Armenia Desk Officer at the U.S. Department of State.

Paltrow echoed the statements of the others saying, “I am so glad to have the chance to finally see this site because we see the images, we read the stories in the newsletter… But it is very, very impressive to be here at the actual location, to see the surgeries in progress.  I think it is very important work and a very commendable effort.”

Upon arrival, the delegation was briefed on the activities of the Project in the AECP tent — a large structure put up adjacent to the MEH and used for eye screenings, public education and a variety of other programs.  The brief included a presentation on the big screen and guests received a number of AECP publications to illustrate the tools the organization uses to combat preventable blindness in Armenia.

During the brief, Dr. Malayan emphasized the importance of the comprehensive project for the development of eye care in Armenia and underscored the training and research component — the cornerstone of AECP’s Five Point Program.  Dr. Shahsuvaryan also shared her impressions of the AECP-USAID family physician training program.

Once inside the MEH, the group watched eye surgeries in progress on a closed-circuit monitor used for teaching purposes.  They also observed eye examinations and talked with patients and their physicians.

Summing up her experience on the MEH, Witmer said, “The operation is going on and it is good to see.  U.S. money is really helping to make a difference, especially in the healthcare system of Armenia.  It’s impressive to be here.”