Our History

Turning an Idea into Reality

The concept of Orbis began in the late 1960’s when Dr. David Paton, a renowned US ophthalmologist, was a faculty member of The Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. After extended experiences abroad, Dr. Paton recognized the lack of eye care and ophthalmic teaching in developing nations where blindness was widespread. It concerned him because 80% of the world’s avoidable blindness occurs in the developing world, so someone needed to try to close this gap.  But the high costs of tuition, international travel and accommodations prevented most doctors and nurses in low-income countries from coming to the USA for training.

Mobile Teaching Hospital

Out of this experience came the idea for a mobile teaching hospital and the inspiration for the world’s only Flying Eye Hospital. Hence, Project Orbis International was born.  This led to a unique and lasting alliance between aviation and medicine.  With help from other supporters like Betsy Trippe Devecchi, Niles Bond, George Gould, Thomas Knight, Charles Lord, J. Wright Rumbaugh and A.L. Ueltschi, a donated plane from United Airlines, and a grant from USAID, they converted a DC-8 plane into the world’s first fully functional teaching eye hospital. 

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: 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.