Ten Years in the Making, Osteoporosis Center of Armenia Opens

Special to the Armenian Weekly

YEREVAN (A.W.)Surrounded by friends, collaborators, and supporters, Dr. John P. Bilezikian and Varta Babalyan cut the ceremonial ribbon to mark the opening of the Osteoporosis Center of Armenia on Oct. 9.

Dr. John P. Bilezikian (L) and Varta Babalyan (R) cutting the ceremonial ribbon to mark the opening of the Osteoporosis Center of Armenia (Photo: Shamiram Barooshian)

Dr. Bilezikian, a professor of medicine and pharmacology at Columbia University and a world-renowned osteoporosis specialist, says the goal of the center is to support existing healthcare programs and hospitals in Armenia by providing doctors and patients with advice and information about osteoporosis. It will also be a resource for educational outreach and research. Varta Babalyan, who has worked closely with Dr. Bilezikian for many years, is president of the Armenian Osteoporosis Association and the director of the newly opened center.

“Every country needs a Varta,” said Dr. Bilezikian of her appointment, praising her abilities to manage and meet the goals of the center. Many words of praise and appreciation were also shared for Dr. Bilezikian’s work and in celebration of the opening of the center, which is supported in part by the Hirair and Anna Hovnanian Foundation. It has also received support from the JHM Foundation.

The event concluded a week of bone density training, lectures and knowledge exchange in Yerevan.

On Oct. 3-4, a training course titled “Osteoporosis Essentials” was held at the Markarian Hospital thanks to a joint effort by the International Osteoporosis Foundation and the International Society of Clinical Densitometry. The course provided training for over 50 people from Armenia and other countries in the basic elements of bone densitometry. Measurement of bone density is the gold standard for diagnosing osteoporosis.

Varta Babalyan (R), who has worked closely with Dr. Bilezikian (L) for many years, is president of the Armenian Osteoporosis Association and the director of the newly opened center (Photo: Shamiram Barooshian)

On Oct. 5, Dr. Bilezikian led the 11th annual International Osteoporosis Symposium, which focused on updates in epidemiology, nutrition, risk factors, perimenopausal women’s skeletal health, and causes of osteoporosis and its management. The highly regarded faculty included Armenian-American physicians practicing in the United States, along with experts from Armenia.

The opening of the Osteoporosis Center of Armenia is a major milestone for osteoporosis prevention and treatment—and for Dr. Bilezikian himself. It is the latest step in a decade-long effort to enable osteoporosis research and care in Armenia. Ten years ago, Dr. Bilezikian was responsible for bringing his first bone density machine to Armenia at the Markarian Hospital in Yerevan. The radiology-imaging wing of the Markarian Hospital, where the machine is now located, is dedicated in memory of Dr. Bilezikian’s mother, Zabelle Apovian Bilezikian.

It was also at Markarian Hospital, in 2007, that Dr. Bilezikian hosted the first Osteoporosis Symposium. Since then, he has visited Armenia regularly to host training, lead the annual Symposium, and bring additional diagnostic machines to the country. The instruments are the generous gifts of the Hologic Corporation in Massachusetts.

Thanks to these efforts, Armenia now has more than eight bone-density machines, including one in Artsakh (Karabagh), making such testing much more accessible to Armenians across the country. In fact, Armenia has improved from being last among countries with bone density measurement capability to well above the worldwide average.

With technical capabilities in place, Dr. Bilezikian has been working to elevate the issue of osteoporosis in the medical community in Armenia and to increase education among the country’s population. The Osteoporosis Center will give Armenians a place to go for information and recommendations related to osteoporosis from medical professionals. The center’s work is designed to complement existing osteoporosis care programs throughout Armenia.

In addition, the center intends to further osteoporosis research in Armenia. Over the last five years, for example, researchers have collected data about osteoporosis in Armenia; that information is now used to accurately assess an individual’s risk of fracture. Dr. Bilezikian hopes to continue promoting this type of research, and to work on building the infrastructure necessary for establishing Armenia as a major center for osteoporosis research—and, moreover, a major center for osteoporosis throughout Eurasia.

“We are going to be the center of research, education, outreach, and advances in our field,” Dr. Bilezikian said of Armenia at the opening event. “Now you may say this is not possible, but I think it is. Together, we’re going to have a strength that is much beyond what any of us could do by ourselves. With your help, your support, and some divine guidance for sure, we will get there.”

And, indeed, over the past 10 years, Dr. Bilezikian has grown a large network of supporters and collaborators from various countries and specialties. They’ve come together many times over the years to contribute to Dr. Bilezikian’s vision and have gotten to know each other not only professionally but also personally. Many of them attended the Oct. 9 opening, giving the event an atmosphere of not just celebration but also warmth, goodwill, and love.

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Shamiram Barooshian

Shami lives and works in Boston as an Editor for Original 9 Media.

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