Berj Apkarian, Fresno’s honorary consul for the Republic of Armenia, will lead a group of 22 local doctors on a mission from Oct. 4-15 to provide medical care to rural, underserved communities throughout Armenia and host a symposium to educate the republic’s medical professionals on the latest technology.
Apkarian and the physicians met Wednesday at AJ’s Armenian Cuisine in central Fresno to discuss the logistics of the mission. The group will have to bring their own medical supplies, equipment and interpreters on the journey.
The first nine days will be spent offering medical and dental care in small towns, while the final three days will be spent educating Armenian medical professionals for free on the latest treatments for common ailments in the Republic of Armenia, such as hepatitis and diabetes.
The mission was first announced when Apkarian took his post in October. He has worked with the Ministry of Health in the Republic of Armenia as well as various Fresno medical professionals to make it happen.
“I am proud of my community,” Apkarian said. “And not just the Armenian community – the majority of these physicians are non-Armenian.”
“These people have stepped up for an important humanitarian mission.”
Apkarian said the trip will be funded only by private donations. Many of these doctors, he added, will close their private practices and clinics while they are away. The goal is to limit the financial strain on these volunteers as much as possible.
Dr. Vatche Wassilian, who graduated from dental school in the Republic of Armenia before opening a private dental practice in Clovis, said he will temporarily close his practice for the trip if he must.
We’re going to give them the smile they deserve.
Dr. Vatche Wassilian, a Clovis dentist making the trip to the Republic of Armenia
“We are doing what this great country (the U.S.) taught us: Helping people when you can,” Wassilian said. “It’s the least I can do.”
Dr. Jeffrey Thomas is also among the 22 doctors making the trip. He has a private practice where he delivers 40-50 babies per month as an OB-GYN, and he also serves as a board member and president of the medical staff at Community Regional Medical Center.
“We are trying to make contact with the boots on the ground there to predict their needs,” Thomas said. “We are not sure if we will need to perform actual operations or if we’ll do things like offer consultations and immunizations.
“Whatever it is, we will take care of it.”
Thomas said an important part of the journey will be sharing medical knowledge with local doctors, which can help them form the infrastructure necessary to improve their health care.
Doctors from Kaiser Permanente Fresno, Valley Children’s Hospital and Community Regional will also make the trip. Apkarian said Community Medical Centers also donated money and supplies to the mission.
Anyone interested in donating to the mission can make checks out to the Fresno Regional Foundation and mail them to 1060 Fulton Mall, Suite 802, Fresno, CA 93721. Checks should have Armenia Exchange Fund written in the notes section. Donations are tax deductible.