The Republic of Armenia declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. However, the healthcare system and the medical establishment continued operating under the same old Soviet era rules and approaches. Breast cancer screening equipment in Armenia was decades old and grossly inaccurate. Preventive healthcare was non-existent and cultural barriers and distrust of medical institutions led to large numbers of breast cancer deaths each year. Breast cancer was often detected at advanced stages when treatment was not viable, yet radical mastectomies were often performed for non-malignant tumors.
According to Armenia’s Ministry of Health, breast cancer was and still is the number one killer of cancer deaths among women in Armenia. In 1997, in response to this crisis, the AACA organized its first medical mission to Armenia and established the Armenian American Mammography University Center (AAMUC) (later renamed to the Armenian American Wellness Center) on the campus of the Yerevan State Medical University, and registered it as the first non-profit entity in the country. AAMUC was created to provide mammography screening for early and accurate detection of breast cancer. The President and Vice-President of AACA led a team of six medical specialists from several major U.S. medical institutions on this mission. This group installed medical equipment for breast screening and selected and trained from 22 applicants three local young women radiologists and three administrative staff members to initiate the work at AAMUC.
The success of this project in its first four years of operation drew the attention of both the U.S. and Armenian governments. Since 2000, AACA has worked closely with USAID and leverages U.S. Government funding with private donations from thousands of grassroots Armenian-Americans throughout North America.
In 2000, basic gynecology services were also introduced to ensure the accurate diagnosis of cervical cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in Armenia. To provide accurate and cost-effective readings of breast tissue biopsies and Pap smears, a state-of-the-art Pathology Laboratory for Histology and Cytology was also created at the Center since no such reliable laboratory was available in the country then. To better reflect the range of services that the project provided to its female patients, the Center was officially re-named from AAMUC to become Armenian American Wellness Center (AAWC or Wellness Center).
In 2002, following the meeting between the President of Armenia and the Founder of the Wellness Center, in recognition of the impact that the Wellness Center had made on women’s healthcare, the Armenian Government, through a Special Presidential decree, donated to the Armenian American Wellness Center “Foundation” the entire “Soviet Era” five-story dilapidated building and its land (close to $1,000,000), where the Wellness Center was located on its first floor. With support from USAID grants, as well as 200% cost-sharing contribution from AACA’s private grassroots fundraising, the building has gone through extensive reconstruction, expansion, seismic reinforcement and renovation. The resulting modern diagnostic healthcare facility, based on Western building norms, has also installed a Solar Roof Integrated PV System that is generating 10kW of clean renewable energy. Additional 140kW of renewable energy will be generated very soon from the installation of a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system. This will use the exhaust of the natural gas to heat and/or cool the entire building and provide its hot water system.
In 2003, a Satellite Clinic was opened in Gavar, a town 60 miles northeast of the capital city of Yerevan in the Lake Sevan Region, where breast abnormalities among women are the highest in the country. A two-room house was extensively renovated and is now a modern, 10-room healthcare facility, providing Primary Healthcare services including breast and cervical screening, and women’s reproductive healthcare services to the vulnerable population of the Gegharkounic Marz’s (District) 250,000 residents.
In 2004, Family Medicine was introduced at the Wellness Center, followed by the launching of a Bone Density Screening Program for osteoporosis, with the installation of a DEXA unit in 2006 – the first of its kind in Armenia. In 2009, the DEXA unit was upgraded with a C Upgrade unit to provide thoracic and lumbar vertebral fracture assessment also.
In 2010, the Hematology and Immunology Laboratory services were also introduced, followed by the opening of an in-house Pharmacy.
Our Work Today…
In Armenia, mothers are the pillars of their families and, therefore, their well-being affects the entire family, the society and the nation. For several years, the Wellness Center’s female patients, repeatedly requested that same level of high quality healthcare services be also provided to their husbands and families. The Wellness Center has come to understand that they need to work with the whole family in order to improve the health of the entire population. Starting June 2011, the Wellness Center is providing Men’s Health, concentrating on urology and prostate cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment.
In October 2012, a Dental Health Clinic was opened as research has shown that there is a correlation between bad dental health and breast health, heart health and arthritis.
The Wellness Center now provides services in eight departments:
- Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis including Osteoporosis Screenings
- Basic Gynecology including cervical cancer screening, family planning, infertility treatment, and addressing menopausal issues;
- Pathology Lab services, providing cytology (cell analysis) and histology (tissue analysis);
- Family Medicine and Endocrinology;
- In-house Pharmacy;
- Hematology and Immunology Laboratory;
- Men’s Health and prostate cancer screening.
- Dental Health Program
The Wellness Center, as a state-of-the-art medical healthcare facility, is one of the very few, if not the only medical workplace that has won the trust of the Armenian public and the respect of the local medical community and institutions. As a result, between 100 to125 patients come daily to the Wellness Center to seek its quality medical care provided by a dedicated medical staff trained by U.S. Medical professionals.