Diabetes and diabetic retinopathy do not abide by man-made boundaries. According to the World Health Organization, the number of individuals with diabetes around the world has quadrupled in the past 35 years. Prevalence is increasing worldwide, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. As everyone in the EyePACS community knows well, one devastating consequence of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy (DR), which now accounts for 2.6% of all blindness in the world. While our major focus has been screening for DR across the United States, EyePACS has, throughout its 15-year history, taken its telemedicine solution to countries across the globe, including Mexico, Guyana, Djibouti, Colombia, and now Armenia.
Most recently, in October 2016, EyePACS joined a medical mission to provide immediate and sustainable healthcare improvements to the beautiful country of Armenia. Before we detail the mission and our part in it, we’d like to tell you something about this country, so little known to most Americans. Formerly a Soviet republic, Armenia is an ancient country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia. It shares borders with Turkey and Georgia and just barely meets Iran to the far south.
Armenia is a democratic nation-state, mostly mountainous, with few forests. The country has developed a modern industrial sector; Intel recently agreed to open a research center there. Over the past decade Armenia has made vast improvements to health services and healthcare accessibility, including an “open enrollment” program which allows Armenians to choose their healthcare service provider.
Our purpose in joining this medical mission was, of course, to bring a telemedicine solution to a country struggling to screen its diabetic population for DR and thus lower the rate of preventable blindness. The project was planned and developed through the joint effort of Sante Health, (a group in Central California with more than 1200 physicians and nurse practitioners in partnership with hospitals, labs, x-ray facilities, and outpatient caregivers), and the Armenian Consul in Fresno, California, Berj Apkarian. Together they arranged to bring surgeons, internists, gynecologist, neurologists, neonatologists and other healthcare professionals to offer their knowledge, materials and skills to the Armenian healthcare system. The country’s Health Ministry fully supported these efforts and welcomed us.
Thanks to the support of Dr. Kuldip Thusu, PhD, a respected philanthropist and CEO of Alta Family Health Clinic in Dinuba, California, as well as owner of Universal Biopharma Research Institute, EyePACS was able to establish multiple diabetic retinopathy screening sites in hospitals in three locations in Armenia: Yerevan (the capital city), Gyumri and Stepanakert (which lies in the autonomous region of Artsakh). We placed four digital retinal cameras in Armenian health facilities, at no cost to the providers or patients, and trained staff to operate them. We demonstrated the EyePACS system, which will now provide a telemedicine solution to better control their DR rate through early detection.
According to Pablo Cuadros, EyePACS Program Coordinator, “In spite of their turbulent history, the Armenian people impressed us with their resilience and good natured hospitality. From our first day in Yerevan, their gratitude and willingness to participate in our mission significantly enhanced the amount of sustainable care we were able to provide. We were honored to interact with brilliant ophthalmologists who caught on to the EyePACS system very quickly and were enthusiastic about this new technology to improve patient care. They were also eager to express other needs that the mission might fulfill in the future.”
This futuristic approach demonstrates the benefit of working with professionals who are constantly looking for new ways to collaborate. Dr. Thusu and EyePACS look forward to communicating with our new friends on the other side of the world to see what additional services we can provide.