by Nane Vardanyan
People often refer to doctors when they find themselves in deep water. It is a financial, a mentality, and health infrastructure issue not only in rural communities of Armenia but also in larger towns. Caring about our beneficiaries, we couldn’t forget about their health. Nowadays, COVID-19 is the dominant risk factor to humanity, but in general, cancer is a leading cause of death globally. Armenia has a high cancer rate, namely breast, thyroid, and prostate cancers. Doctors all over the world cannot stress enough that early detection is the key to the successful treatment of any type of cancer.
15 years ago, a woman around her 30s from Yervandashat village, Armavir Province, visited the medical center where COAF doctors were providing free screenings to the locals. “The ultrasound screening is everyone’s favorite as the process is more compelling compared to other procedures,” explains Lusine Sahakyan, the Health Programs Manager at COAF. The woman came asking to have the ultrasound screening, whereas Lusine persuaded her to use the exceptional opportunity and have breast examination as well. “She eventually agreed, and it turned out she had malignant breast cancer. Her family, shocked and desperate from the news, first thought about the financial burden the surgery and its further processes might cause. They would have to sell their domestic animals to afford the treatment,” remembers Lusine.
Realizing the socio-economic barriers of villagers but aiming to open their eyes enough to perceive the importance of early detection and further care, Lusine tried to explain to the woman’s family that all is fair when a life is at risk. “It’s better to sell your cows to keep your wife around you and your kids than sell it later for a worse reason,” prompted Lusine. What happened later? The woman successfully recovered from the surgery and continues to live 15 years after the occasion. Every time we visit Yervandashat for some reason, she meets us to express her gratitude to Lusine.
This is just one of the many impactful stories for COAF doctors Lusine Antonyan and Lusine Sahakyan. In 2005, COAF started offering free gynecologic pap tests in rural communities of Armenia. We have gradually broadened our health service framework since then. Since the beginning of 2019, we provide preliminary examinations to men as well.
Nowadays, we can proudly state that COAF provides all the stages of a preliminary cancer examination. This year we took a step forward towards the early detection of breast, thyroid, and prostate cancers by adding free need-based mammography, breast and thyroid FNA biopsy, and thyroid hormonal tests to our services.
In 2019, 2587 patients underwent clinical examinations. Along with screenings, we conduct community health education seminars and training on child care, prenatal and postnatal care, patients’ education on chronic diseases, and family planning. Becoming more knowledgeable in healthcare, our trainees share the information with their relatives and friends. They even do “homemade diagnosis” themselves. “Once one of our trainees called me telling her neighbor had breast cancer symptoms. The local doctor hadn’t recognized the symptoms and had encouraged the patient to wait as long as she had pain. The COAF team connected the patient with our partner-doctor. Turned out, the woman did have cancer. Just a seminar can somehow change someone’s life,” tells Lusine Sahakyan.
The impact of our health screenings is difficult to evaluate. The number of patients undergoing free screenings and having access to medical resources unaffordable by many is significant. The true value is the dozens of stories of the saved lives, the families that grow with their loved ones around, and the thousands of COAF kids surrounded by healthy parents and grandparents.
We care for your health, you should too.