Saving Thousands of Babies from Blindness
Blindness is devastating at any age. But a child without sight is especially tragic — with their entire future ahead of them.
Around 2009, doctors in Armenia began to see a large increase — an epidemic — of babies who were blind.
The blindness was caused by a debilitating eye disease called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) that only affects premature infants.
As the healthcare system improved in Armenia, more premature infants were surviving, and those same babies were developing ROP — an eye disease that, at the time, was completely unknown and untreated in Armenia.
“It was completely new to us,” Inga Sargsyan, a physician in Armenia, said. “We had never observed such cases and we did not know what to do.”
“The burden of telling parents that ‘Your child will never see again’ was exasperating,” AECP Physician Dr. Tadevos Hovhannisyan added.
Something had to be done.
In 2010, the Armenian EyeCare Project began a program to treat this growing epidemic in Armenia and save thousands of babies from going blind.
Ophthalmologists from abroad traveled to the country to train physicians to diagnose ROP and treat it at the onset. In a year’s time, Armenian doctors were performing at the same level, if not better, than doctors in the U.S.
Our ROP program has been such a success in Armenia that it has since expanded into a full-fledged, state-of-the-art facility — the Center of Excellence for the Prevention of Childhood Blindness in Yerevan.
With an entire floor inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) dedicated to preventing childhood blindness, the Center of Excellence is equipped with all the necessary amenities, including the latest surgical equipment and a well-qualified surgical staff who have been trained by some of the best ophthalmologists in the world.
“Not only are we able to tell the parents about the problem, but we can also tell them that we can help,” Dr. Hovhannisyan said.
Since its establishment, the Center of Excellence has been so effective that not only are Armenian families not having to send their children to other countries for aid, now, families from other countries are traveling to Armenia for help.
The most important part? Thanks to the Center of Excellence, blindness in children is being prevented — one tiny patient at a time.