Celebrating 40 Years of Innovation

It was March 1, 1982, when our iconic Flying Eye Hospital took off on its first ever sight-saving project. Over the four decades since, we have continually harnessed the power of innovation to reach new heights in the fight against avoidable blindness.

Below, explore our history of using innovation to fight avoidable blindness, see how far we have come in 40 years thanks to our commitment to this innovative approach, and learn more about what's ahead in our work.

The Orbis Innovation Story

It all began with a big challenge and an even bigger idea. Around the world, millions of people lose their sight because they can’t access the care they need, while eye care teams struggle to get training to help them care for patients in their communities.

We realized that if we could bring training from the world’s best eye care professionals directly to the eye care teams that need it most, we could change the way the world sees. So in 1982, we decided to put a teaching hospital on a plane and call it the Flying Eye Hospital. This way, our amazing team of world-leading volunteers could equip local eye health professionals with the skills and know-how to deliver quality eye care in their own communities.

After the Flying Eye Hospital came surgical mentorship via our telemedicine platform, Cybersight, and the creation of our country programs in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

WATCH: Our innovation journey through the years

Along the way, we’ve kitted out our aircraft with the latest training technology – like simulators that allow eye care professionals to practice for surgery just like pilots practice for flight.

Cybersight’s artificial intelligence tool can detect abnormalities often associated with common eye diseases by analyzing images of the eye taken during a routine exam and provide results in seconds. For patients who travel a great distance to have their exam, quick results can make all the difference in whether they get follow-up care.

We have also collaborated to develop a first-of-its-kind virtual reality simulator that has the potential to help eye surgeons build their skills at a fraction of the cost of existing simulators.

Discover more about some of the tools at the heart of the Orbis innovation story that have helped maximize our impact!

Kofi Annan

Former United Nations Secretary-General

There are few occa­sions in life when an idea takes off and leads to achieve­ments beyond our wildest expec­ta­tions: when a mis­sion is dri­ven by a vision so clear and com­pelling that it lit­er­al­ly enables oth­ers to see it too. Orbis is one of those.”

40 Years of Changing Lives

Through innovations like our Flying Eye Hospital projects, dedicated country programs and Cybersight, we have been able to ensure a brighter tomorrow for millions and change lives in places where quality eye care is more difficult to access.

Below, read about four of the lives we've been able to transform thanks to our culture of innovation as well as the kindness of our wonderful supporters.

Millions Around The World Are Waiting To See

Save Sight Today

Why Innovate for Sight?

Globally, 1.1 billion people live with vision loss. It’s a big problem, but it’s also a very solvable one. In fact, a staggering 90% of it is avoidable. Existing prevention methods and treatments – such as ophthalmic surgeries, antibiotics, and eyeglasses – could restore sight to millions of children and adults around the world.

Great strides are being made in increasing access to eye care. In 2017, experts predicted that, without action, global blindness would triple to nearly 115 million people by 2050. Thanks to the efforts of organizations like Orbis and others in the eye care community, that tripling has been offset.

Despite this progress, eye care needs have still been urgent and rapidly growing. As people live longer lives, as the world’s population grows, and as lifestyle changes cause an uptick in conditions like diabetic retinopathy and myopia (near-sightedness), we are seeing a growing number of people with sight-threatening conditions who need eye care, and global blindness is projected to reach 60 million by 2050.

The number of people in need of eye care is outpacing the number of trained ophthalmologists. An increase in the number of skilled eye care professionals as well as high-quality training and mentoring opportunities are urgently needed if we are to meet rising demands and ensure that no one loses their sight from preventable or treatable causes.

Our innovative and sustainable solutions are designed to have exponential impact to meet this growing need. We train eye care teams in areas with the greatest need to fight avoidable blindness in their communities.

Those who receive training go on to provide sight-saving care for many people over the course of their careers, and in some cases go on to train additional eye health workers. Read about some of these real-life examples below.

When the pandemic disrupted everything, our culture of innovation meant we were ready for new ways of working when it mattered most. We made the difficult decision to postpone in-person Flying Eye Hospital projects. But we knew we still needed to keep our mission in flight - quickly pivoting to a virtual model so that eye care professionals could still grow their skills safely.

Carried out using Cybersight, virtual Flying Eye Hospital projects use a combination of pre-learning modules, recorded and live lectures, and discussion sessions. Each project is tailored to the training needs of local ophthalmologists, ophthalmology residents, nurses, biomedical engineers and technicians.

The virtual projects have allowed us to train eye care professionals in more than three dozen countries since 2020 – even more countries than originally anticipated with our in-person flight plans.

While we may have adapted programs during the pandemic out of necessity, the innovative solutions we developed have not been just short-term fixes – they are ones we're scaling and that will enrich our programs going forward.

Looking to the Future

We still believe that the best way to fight avoidable blindness and vision impairment is to bring people together to share knowledge, skills, and support. What has changed is that, today, we have more ways to do this.

Telemedicine allows us to reach more people than ever before, including many in areas where the Flying Eye Hospital simply cannot go. We can put quality training programs in the hands of any eye care professional with an internet connection and a smartphone, which are common and affordable in low-income countries.

In addition to delivering training, telemedicine can be used to facilitate remote patient consultations in many cases, alleviating costly and unnecessary patient travel. And artificial intelligence can aid eye care professionals in ensuring more of their patients have common eye conditions diagnosed early, when vision loss is easier to prevent.

We’re on the right path – but much more can, and must, be done. The world is evolving faster than it ever was before, and so are the threats and challenges to quality and accessible eye care. To prevent the growth of global blindness to 60 million by 2050, we must continue to innovate while scaling up our most impactful programs.

Derek Hodkey

President & CEO of Orbis International

Orbis’s founders had a sim­ple yet ambi­tious vision when they first con­ceived of the Fly­ing Eye Hos­pi­tal four decades ago: to end avoid­able blind­ness by pro­vid­ing train­ing to eye care teams around the world. That vision hasn’t changed. We still believe that the best way to save sight is to bring peo­ple togeth­er to share knowl­edge, skills and sup­port. What has changed is that, today, we have more ways to bring more peo­ple togeth­er than ever before.”

Alongside our commitment to continue investing in technology and innovation, our programs will focus on the priority areas of children’s eye care; eliminating blinding trachoma; supporting community-based eye care services, especially making them accessible for vulnerable and marginalized people and populations; and building the capacity of eye health teams globally.

As Orbis looks towards the future amidst a rapidly changing public health landscape, we are undaunted by the challenges ahead and resolute in our mission to save sight around the world.

A huge thank you to all our supporters, partners and volunteers who have enabled us to fight avoidable blindness with the same innovative spirit we began our work with 40 years ago.

With your help, we can continue to change the way the world sees – together.


Help Us Change The Way The World Sees For Another 40 Years

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