Mobile Eye Hospital
What weighs 14 tons and restores eyesight?
What weighs 14 tons and restores eyesight? The AECP Mobile Eye Hospital is a massive piece of machinery, built in St. Johnsbury, Vermont that travels throughout Armenia — takes two years for a full trip — and provides eye care for those who would otherwise be without.
The Mobile Eye Hospital has impressive statistics — it weighs 14 tons, has 408 square feet, is 48 feet long, is 8.5 feet wide and 13.5 feet high. Within this mobile eye clinic is a state-of-the-art surgical suite where doctors perform basic surgeries including cataract. There are also two examination rooms, a mechanical room, a lavatory, a utility room and a “clean and dirty” room with a microwave, a sterilizer, sink and refrigerator. Outfitted with the latest eye care equipment, the MEH has two lasers in different rooms – one for examinations and another in the operating room. 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.
The genesis of the Mobile Eye Hospital was during 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 quality 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 live,” 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 inspiration 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.
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.