More than 200 million people around the world are visually impaired. While many take eye care for granted, Orbis International is looking out for the 89 percent of visually impaired people who live in low- and middle-income countries. The company launched its third-generation Flying Eye Hospital in 2016 to train local surgeons to better care for their patients while promoting eye care and global health. The non-profit organization is currently involved in 61 projects in 18 countries including Peru, Cameroon, Ethiopia and China.
Inside the Flying Eye
Donated by FedEx, Orbis's MD-10 has been gutted and refurbished with all the equipment needed to train local teams and complete eye exams and surgeries. The front section is a 46-seat classroom where doctors, nurses, teachers and others attend lectures and watch training videos. According to Orbis, approximately 40,000 doctors have completed training on the aircraft and at partner institutes such as local hospitals and universities. One of the next sections is the audio-visual room where surgeries are broadcast live for others to see.
Further along the aircraft is the laser room, which holds surgery simulators. These allow doctors to practice eye surgery such as cataract removal. Fitted with eye-exam equipment, the laser room also acts as a holding area for patients about to go into surgery in the operating room, which allows for hands-on training.
According to the organization, more than 300,000 eye and laser procedures have been performed on the aircraft and at partner hospitals between 2012 and 2016. One of the last rooms on the aircraft is a recovery room that is manned with teddy bears whose eye patches mimic patients’ operations as a way to comfort young children.
Partnering with Institutions
Orbis continues to expand its partnerships with universities and organizations around the world. In announcing its FBO at Al Maktoum International Airport earlier this week, ExecuJet will provide FBO handling support for the Flying Eye Hospital. Meanwhile, UTC Aerospace’s $1 million contribution, which was announced at the Paris Airshow in June, will go towards establishing a mobile simulation center outfitted for the aircraft.
“Orbis and the Flying Eye Hospital have made a tremendous impact on the world by restoring vision to hundreds of thousands of people in need,” said UTC president Dave Gitlin. “The mobile simulation center will help Orbis widen its influence by offering training to more volunteer medical professionals in even more remote areas. It will enable them to get in the field faster and make a difference faster. We are so proud to be associated with such a world-class organization that makes a profound difference in people’s lives every day.”
Eyeing the Future
Bruce Johnson, director of aircraft operations for Orbis, told AIN during a tour of the aircraft that the success of Orbis is leading the company towards expanding its program to more low-income countries. Johnson also said that while this MD-10 was launched as recently as 2016, the organization is looking forward to obtaining its fourth-generation aircraft. Although Johnson recognized the current aircraft could perform for 15 more years, the organization is thinking of the longer-term.
The impact of Orbis International’s Flying Eye Hospital continues even after the aircraft has left a country. Besides providing local teams with the tools they need to improve eye care in communities, technology like CyberSight allows local doctors to keep in touch with the volunteer faculty by broadcasting lectures and surgeries from the aircraft, even after it has moved on.