15 February 2012
ORBIS, the international eye care not-for-profit organisation that recently opened two paediatric eye care centres in Southern Africa, is this year (2012), celebrating thirty years of saving sight and eliminating avoidable blindness worldwide.
The fact that 90% of visual impairment occurs in developing countries and 80% is avoidable, preventable or curable, inspired American ophthalmologist Dr David Paton to take action and start ORBIS. In 1982 he teamed up with the founders of Pan Am and FlightSafety International to develop the first ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital on a decommissioned DC-8 aircraft. He convinced his fellow ophthalmologists to volunteer their time to join him aboard this mobile ophthalmic teaching hospital and conduct sight saving missions to developing countries; ORBIS International was born.
ORBIS has since established a network of high-quality eye health programmes around the world, building the capacity of local partners so that they can tackle avoidable blindness. This long-term approach is complemented by intensive training programmes on board the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital in several countries each year.
Since 1982 ORBIS has trained over 288,000 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals in 89 countries and helped to provide medical and eye treatments to 15 million people, almost a third of whom (4.7 million) were children. “Thirty years later and our vision remains the same, we see a world where no one, especially not children, go blind from causes that are preventable. We pride ourselves on medical excellence and empowering our partners with the tools to tackle visual impairment in their communities,” explains Lene Øverland, Director of ORBIS Africa.
Throughout its 30th anniversary year, ORBIS will be continuing its work in developing countries, with a special focus on children’s eye health in Africa. The ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital, now a DC-10 airplane, will be conducting two training programmes on the continent (in Ethiopia and Zambia) as well as doing an advocacy visit to South Africa. Furthermore the ORBIS Southern Africa office in Cape Town will continue to roll out its strategy to build the capacity of paediatric eye care services in the region.
“Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of blind children and yet there are fewer paediatric ophthalmologists and paediatric eye centres in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Furthermore there is a small window of opportunity to correct preventable blindness in young children, usually before six years of age,” says Øverland. “Correcting the tragedy of preventable blindness in the region is an urgent public health priority.”
Far from being a luxury, experts agree that paediatric eye care gives a significant return to society; childhood blindness is estimated to account for a third of the total economic cost of blindness. “Restoring a child’s sight gives one of the best returns on medical investment,” said Øverland.
ORBIS is working with partners and donors in Southern Africa to secure long-term funding for its vital sight-saving work in the region. To find out more about ORBIS and how you can join the fight for sight visit www.orbis.org.za or www.facebook.com/ORBIS-SA.
Issued on behalf of ORBIS Southern Africa (www.ORBIS.org.za) by Paula Wilson Media Consulting (www.pwmc.co.za).
For media queries, interviews or visuals please contact Paula Wilson on 021 789 1904 / 082 659 9187 or Cathy Williams on 084 682 2847 / firstname.lastname@example.org.