Building on our long-term record of successful partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in July 2021, the Armenian EyeCare Project received a three-year grant from the agency to enhance pediatric eye health services in five regions of Armenia through our already established Regional Eye Centers.
Through this grant the AECP is implementing a comprehensive eye screening and treatment program for schoolchildren aged 6-16 in 15 urban and rural communities throughout Armenia. We are once again
bringing the best international practices in modern pediatric eye care to Armenia and offering treatment of potentially sight-threatening eye disorders that would otherwise have a detrimental effect on the quality of life and overall performance of children. The program will undoubtedly improve the health of children and adolescents with a potential to grow into replicable, scalable and sustainable interventions to prevent childhood blindness not only in Armenia but in neighboring countries as well.
Urgent and serious issues are faced by thousands of Armenian children in need of quality eye care to prevent complications from undetected and untreated eye diseases in the future. According to statistics, a vast number of children in Armenia begin school without an eye exam despite a full checkup being required by the country’s Ministry of Health. Data obtained through the AECP/Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) School Screening Survey done in 2018-2020 showed that 49.8% of parents of children with visual impairment were not aware of their children’s vision problems and learned about it for the first time during the screening activities of the project.
If corrected early more than 80% of eye problems can be treated leading to improved learning and better school performance. Early intervention through screening and treatment prevents vision loss and allows children to live healthy and productive lives. Conversely, severe visual impairment impedes children’s educational and social growth and overall participation in their community.
Upon securing funding from USAID, the AECP launched our three-year outreach program for children in
five regions of Armenia. We also helped regional healthcare providers, including school nurses, by offering training opportunities to develop knowledge and skills on pediatric eye screening techniques, basic pediatric vision disorders, low vision and eye disease treatment methods and more.
Additionally, our program benefits parents and the general public by enhancing their knowledge and awareness on the importance of eye care through training opportunities, distribution of educational materials and activity books and board games for children. Among other topics, training covers important issues like the stigma against eyeglasses and helps parents and school staff address problems that children with glasses are more likely to experience like bullying, low self-esteem and the dangers of living with blurry vision if they don’t wear their glasses.
Since this program began in July 2021, more than 3,000 schoolchildren have been screened. As well, work is underway to develop the screening schedule and identify the communities where screenings will be conducted in four other provinces of Armenia: Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Shirak and Syunik.
Due to the high interest of regional healthcare authorities and medical staff towards this program, the number of participants and beneficiaries will exceed the project’s initial goals. As a response, our organization has found new creative ways to conduct training sessions, including remote options, telehealth, consultations and in-person referrals, to maximize the benefits for all.
“This program is a significant step forward in preventing blindness among Armenia’s children and
improving children’s educational, development and chance of success in the future,” AECP Country Director Nune Yeghiazaryan said.
As part of the program, the AECP is also working to develop a software to enter its eye screening data into the cloud-based database and connect it with the national database with the goal to digitize and modernize the healthcare system in Armenia.
The program is expected to continue through May 2023 and offer services in the AECP’s five Regional Eye Centers, which will contribute directly to the sustainability of the project through transfer of knowledge and the building of expertise.