ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital travels to developing countries to train local eye care teams in the skills they need to restore sight in their communities.
The DC-10 aircraft has been converted to hold a classroom, operating theatre with training microscope, recovery room and sterilisation unit. Volunteer pilots, mechanics, surgeons, nurses, biomedical engineers and anaesthetists join the plane on its training missions, restoring sight and opportunity wherever it lands.
Since 1982, ORBIS has trained 280,000 medical personnel and treated more than 15 million people. The ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital has visited 77 countries, 154 cities and carried out 275 missions. As well as training and treating, the hospital is a powerful advocacy tool; the governments of Bangladesh and Ethiopia revised their National Eye Care Plans in-line with best-practise witnessed aboard the ORBIS plane.
The current DC-10 aircraft is the second plane ORBIS has operated as a hospital and with maintenance support becoming harder to come by they are now looking to develop the third Flying Eye Hospital.
ORBIS is partnering with Routes to raise funds for this next generation hospital with wings.
Logistics company FedEx has generously donated an MD-10 cargo plane, so now it falls to ORBIS and its supporters to raise the funds needed to turn this plane into a hospital, a hospital that will train thousands more doctors and nurses from developing countries.
Equipment is generally donated and shipped but training needs someone to be there to answer questions and demonstrate skills, this is ORBIS’ focus and why they are quite unique.
This training saves sight, empowering local eye care teams to restore sight, opportunity and independence. This is only possible thanks to their expert medical and aviation volunteers and donors.
It is these volunteers and donors who helped restore the sight of five-year old Esther from Uganda, and gave Dr Ssali from Mulago Hospital, Kampala, the techniques needed to help even more children like her.
ORBIS volunteer ophthalmologist, Dr Neely, of Indiana University’s School of Medicine, explained, “Esther’s eyes were severely crossed because of a muscle preventing her eyes from properly aligning and this hindered her eyes from normal development.”
Esther experienced double vision, and headaches, but Dr Neely explained that there were also further reaching implications to her condition; “There is a social bias against misaligned eyes so this, as well as the vision loss, is an important factor for children.”
Strabismus, or ‘squint’, is a condition that local paediatric ophthalmologist Dr Ssali was particularly keen to learn more about as many children come to her clinic with this issue and she hadn’t been able to treat the more complicated cases.
Dr Ssali said, “The training helps us to learn new techniques. It helps us also to know what we are doing wrong, what we are doing right and where to improve.”
Dr Neely and Dr Ssali operated to correct the muscles around Esther’s eyes onboard the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital and soon the results were clear for all to see.
“Esther was dancing onboard the plane when she realised she could see everything. It was magical,” Dr Neely remembers.
Esther’s joy will be magnified as Dr Ssali goes on to treat more children with similar eye conditions.
Without the next generation Flying Eye Hospital, eye care teams in developing countries would receive little training and millions of people would remain unnecessarily blind.
With this in mind, ORBIS plans to utilise modern day technology to make this their most effective, efficient hospital yet. It will be comprised of hospital modules, so each room will be a separate container that can be offloaded for repair or replacement. This is a pioneering approach as it is the first time this technology will have been used in this way.
The next generation Flying Eye Hospital will also have the capacity to stream live surgery to trainees all over the world which means that each surgery and lecture not only benefits the students onboard the plane but also hundreds of participants around the globe.
The MD-10 will fly further, for longer and with greater efficiency, housing state-of-the-art medical training equipment, but as ORBIS develops its next plane the current Flying Eye Hospital will continue to work tirelessly, saving sight worldwide.
This year The HUB and Routes News will follow the DC-10 on its last year of service as it travels to Asia and Africa to train the eye care teams of the future, and will keep you up-to-date with the progress of the next generation Flying Eye Hospital’s retro-fit – all made possible by the aviation community’s support of donations of time, equipment and money.