BY CYNTHIA BOSNIAN AND GAIL HOWARD
WASHINGTON—A California-based Foundation has generously donated $250,000 to the Armenian American Cultural Association (AACA) for its humanitarian project in Yerevan, Armenia – the Armenian American Wellness Center (AAWC or Wellness Center).
Maria Princi, AACA Board member, said, “AACA Honorary Chair, Donna Evans (wife of former US Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans) and I were delighted to meet the Trustees of the Foundation and learn of their keen interest in supporting the Wellness Center with their generous donation. During our meeting, they stressed the value of education in any successful endeavor and they were happy to learn that the Wellness Center, from day one, has made its core mission the education of the public, its staff, and the medical community of Armenia. We are grateful to have been brought together by Dr. Mihran Agbabian, founder and first President of the American University of Armenia, and his wife Elizabeth, long-time friends and supporters of the Wellness Center.
Commenting on their recent visit to the Wellness Center, members of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees noted, “Despite the construction/renovation that was underway, the Center was a very beautiful and rewarding site to see. We realized how important it is to Armenia, especially to its women. The Center has made great strides in educating women about taking care of, and standing up for themselves. It has also promoted public awareness in preventive healthcare through its educational campaigns.”
The Foundation’s gift has been designated for the construction of the Center’s expanded ground floor (part of the building’s multi-million dollar renovation/construction and seismic reinforcement), which will ultimately house the Center’s expanded Radiology Department.
Elizabeth Agbabian, noted, “Vartkess and Rita Balian had the vision and foresight to start a Wellness Center for the women of Armenia. Thousands of women have been screened and many lives have been saved. We have witnessed this vital service from its inception, and are amazed how the Wellness Center is accessible to all women, irrespective of their financial capability.” Dr. Mihran Aghbabian continued, “During many trips to Armenia, I have visited the Wellness Center. What started as a noble idea became reality – helping women through medical screenings and education. In my view, the uniqueness of the Wellness Center in Armenia is due in large part to the availability of Western equipment to the medical and technical staff of the Center. Additionally, the staff – both medical and administrative – has received training on-site in Armenia by American medical professionals and in top-notch medical institutions in the U.S.
The Wellness Center was established by AACA in 1997 to address the dire need for the early and accurate detection of breast cancer in Armenia which was, and still is, the leading cause of cancer deaths among the country’s women. In addition to promoting its core mission, i.e., early detection through screenings and self-monthly examination and educating the public on the importance of preventive health care and early detection, the Wellness Center introduced basic gynecology services and pathology laboratory services in June 2001, family medicine in June 2003, and bone density screening in October 2006.
During its development stages, with the assistance of the governments of the United States (through its USAID assistance programs) and the Republic of Armenia (through its donation of the building), AACA envisioned the Wellness Center as a Regional Primary Health Care facility based on Western standards of medical services, which would provide on-site quality diagnosis and treatment (whenever possible). These services would be accessible to all Armenians, as well as to all other citizens of the neighboring countries. This outreach effort would foster understanding and compassion among people in conflict, and hopefully would promote renewal and the much-needed peace in the Caucasus Region.
The Wellness Center creates awareness of health issues and promotes its screening services through the media, lectures, health fairs, distribution of literature, medical outreach missions and annual health walks. Produced in conjunction with AACA, the Wellness Center distributes thousands of health promotion pamphlets each year. These stress the importance of early detection for breast and cervical cancer via annual screenings and mammograms, monthly Breast Self Examinations (BSEs), and annual clinical check-ups. The Center also emphasizes healthy lifestyle choices relating to nutrition, exercise, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and anti-smoking through the dissemination of this information.
For the past twelve years, the Wellness Center has observed October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, organizing many cultural, scientific and literary events. The highlight of these events is the Annual Health Walk through the streets of Yerevan, which has become a day to celebrate women’s health. The Walk attracts over 3,000 participants each year, including more than 500 school children, who join AAWC’s staff in reminding their mothers to take care of their own health as they do for their families. As a result of these activities, more and more women, age 40 and over, are visiting the Center for their first mammogram and for subsequent annual mammograms. Hence, breast cancer in Armenia is being detected and diagnosed in earlier stages allowing more possibilities for treatment and cure.
From its inception, AACA has stressed the importance of education. In addition to the ongoing health education provided to its patients and the general public, the Wellness Center has signed a program agreement with Yerevan State Medical University to teach its first and second year medical students about breast health in general and breast imaging and diagnosis in particular. The Wellness Center also has a six-month residency program for the radiology graduates from the National Institute of Health of Armenia.
Since 1997 through September 2009, AACA has sponsored and organized 47 Medical Exchanges between US medical professionals from seven major university hospital centers and the Wellness Center staff, providing on-site training in Armenia as well as advanced training in US hospitals. Ten Medical Missions have also been conducted during this time. Renowned specialists in the fields of radiology, cytopathology and family medicine have traveled to Armenia to train the Wellness Center physicians and to present lectures in their respective disciplines to the staff of other hospitals and medical centers.
The renovation/construction and seismic reinforcement of the expanded Wellness Center has been financed by AACA through its Armenian-American grassroots and major donors, individual and/or family foundations, and two grants from USAID through its American Schools and Hospital Abroad (ASHA) Division. Despite these difficult economic times, AACA is grateful for the ongoing assistance of its donors and is hopeful that the Armenian American community will continue to support the work of this vital project.
For more information on the Wellness Center and its US sponsor, visit www.aacainc.org, or e-mail [email protected] Please make donations payable to AACA and mail to: 1300 Crystal Drive, Suite 1504, Arlington, VA 22202.