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History

Turning an Idea into Reality

Orbis is the result of a unique and lasting alliance forged between the medical and aviation industries. In the 1970s, leaders of these two industries came together to create the plan that lead to the foundation of Orbis. We knew that the high costs of tuition, international travel and accommodations prevented most doctors and nurses in developing countries from participating in overseas training programs. Even when they could afford to study abroad, their opportunity for direct clinical experience was limited because strict licensing laws often prevented them from performing surgery.

Mobile Teaching Hospital

The solution was a mobile teaching hospital. With a fully equipped hospital onboard an airplane, doctors trained in the latest ophthalmic techniques, including pediatric ophthalmology, could bring their surgical knowledge and skills to doctors in developing countries through hands-on training and lectures. A grant from USAID and funds from private donors enabled us to successfully convert a DC-8 plane into a fully functional teaching eye hospital. As replacement parts for the original DC-8 plane became more difficult and expensive to obtain, it became clear that a newer, larger aircraft was needed. In 1992, after a major fundraising appeal, we purchased a wide-body DC-10 to replace the DC-8. Within two years, we had converted the plane into an eye surgery hospital. Our inaugural mission was to Beijing, China.

Country Programs Emerge

As we grew over the years, we added hospital-based training programs and fellowships to our portfolio to provide additional skills-building opportunities for eye care professionals. In 1999, to build the capacity of local partners, we created long-term country programs in Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India and Vietnam – similar programs are also underway in parts of the Latin America and the Caribbean. Our permanent offices in these countries, run by local staff, develop and implement an array of multi-year projects to improve the quality and accessibility of eye care to residents, particularly in rural areas and impoverished urban communities. Many of these programs focus on the treatment and prevention of childhood blindness, cataract, trachoma and corneal disease.

Telemedicine: Providing Cost-Efficient Online Consultation

The launch of a global telemedicine initiative, Cybersight, in 2003 provided long-term follow-up in the form of distance mentoring and education. This award-winning program extends training opportunities to physicians throughout the world by using the Internet to connect local doctors with our volunteer ophthalmologists for professional mentoring, education and real-time consultation on patient cases and eye care techniques. Cybersight is the world’s only comprehensive online resource which provides ophthalmic education, professional mentoring and patient care consultation to eye care professionals in developing countries, 24/7.