The Armenian EyeCare Project: 25 Years 1992 – 2017
The pain and suffering of blindness is incalculable. The restoration of sight is priceless. The mission of the Armenian Eye Care Project is to eliminate preventable blindness in Armenia and to make 21st Century eye care accessible to every Armenian child and adult.
In 1992, a call came from the Armenian Minister of Health: “Help us fight the growing wave of blindness.” Years of tragedy had taken a heavy toll on the dark eyes of Armenia, a country about the size of Maryland with three million people struggling toward a brighter future.
Nestled between Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan, Armenia suffered a devastating earthquake in 1988 that killed more than 50,000 and injured many more. The same year, war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, lasting six destructive years. By 1991, a major health care crisis existed and the call for help was issued. Teams of American ophthalmologists, many returning to their homeland, embarked on a mission to Armenia, taking with them medicine and equipment. Greater than half of the patients they treated were children and almost all were war casualties.
Roger Ohanesian, M.D., a Laguna Beach, California ophthalmologist, made his first visit to Armenia in 1992, and subsequently founded the Armenian EyeCare Project (AECP). Every year since, American ophthalmologists and reconstructive surgeons have traveled to Armenia twice a year, at their own expense, to bring hope and eye care to a people who view the American doctors as their last chance for sight.
In 2002, the Armenian EyeCare Project expanded their program by launching an Initiative, “Bringing Sight to Armenian Eyes,” to eliminate preventable blindness in Armenia. This is accomplished with a comprehensive, integrated five-point program focusing on (1) direct patient care; (2) medical education and training; (3) public education; (4) research; and (5) strengthening the Armenian eye care delivery system. At the same time, the EyeCare Project opened an office in Yerevan enabling them to have a year-round presence in Armenia.
The Project has provided 350,000 eye examinations, 60,000 pairs of eyeglasses and 18,000 surgeries, primarily cataract — all at no cost to the patients. Further, the Project established an ROP program in 2010, screening and treating Retinopathy of Prematurity and saving premature infants from a lifetime of blindness — more than 60 to date. Currently the EyeCare Project is launching its biggest initiative ever — developing and managing five Regional Eye Clinics throughout the regions to provide access to eye care for all Armenians.