ORBIS Uses Aviation And Circles The Globe To Eliminate Avoidable Blindness
By Maxine Scheer
Aviation has a long history of providing mobility for medical and other humanitarian purposes. At AirVenture 2012, featured prominently on Phillips 66 Plaza, was an impressive example ... a DC-10 with an interior configured as a Flying Eye Hospital (FEH) operated by ORBIS International, whose stated goal is "A world in which no one is needlessly blind, where quality eye care is available to everyone."
ORBIS estimates that 285 million people are visually impaired, with 39 million blind; about 90% of visually impaired live in developing countries and approximately 80 percent of all visual impairment can be avoided or cured with proven and cost effective interventions. ORBIS has restored the vision and transformed the lives of close to 19 million people in 89 countries.
The FEH was first envisioned in the 1970s by Dr. David Paton at John Hopkins Medical Center. He recruited philanthropists, doctors and aviators, and by 1980, received the first aircraft donation from United Airlines Ð a DC-8, replaced in 1994 when Federal Express (FedEx) donated the DC-10 parked at AirVenture. The ORBIS DC-10 provides approximately 2,000 square feet configured with a full hospital-grade ophthalmologic suite, an upgraded 48 seat classroom with extensive audio visual infrastructure for live-broadcasts and production capabilities for leaving training materials in communities served.
On average, the ORBIS FEH logs 100 annual flight hours. Through the "Delivering Sight Worldwide" program, current and retired Fed Ex and United Airlines pilots volunteer their time to fly the FEH. FedEx also provides recurrent pilot training, a full-time aircraft maintenance technician and ships medical supplies to program sites at no charge.
In 2006, FedEx and ORBIS launched the "Global FedEx Fellows Program", which selects ophthalmologists from developing countries to complete fellowships at some of the world's leading eye institutes. ORBIS boosts the developing world's ophthalmic expertise as local practitioners work along-side teams drawn from 400 volunteer physicians, nurses, and medical technicians representing over 20 nationalities.
Dr. Michael Vrabeck (pictured), an Appleton Wisconsin Ophthalmologist, came to AirVenture to share his experience. "I started volunteering with Orbis in 1990 and now go on about one mission a year. Each lasts about a week. It's a great experience." Volunteer faculty, such as Dr. Vrabeck, have enhanced the skills of an estimated 315,000 eye-care professionals, and thousands of others who learn from their peers.
As DC-10s are being phased out in the U.S., ORBIS recently announced the new FEH will be a MD-10-30F, compatible with the new FedEx fleet, crews, and support. The MD-10 extends the aircraft range from 4,000 miles to 6,000 miles. FedEx donated this aircraft, with engines donated by United Airlines. FedEx and other supporters provided cash donations to support development of the interior, a new hospital with added features, such as space to transport medical teams. Design, construction and installation of the hospital is underway in Victorville, CA.
"This effort is a collaboration," says Jack McHale, MD-10 Program Director. "The design team is using modules, built from the configuration of containers designed to fit through the existing cargo door. This accelerates the schedule of numerous certification agencies, reduces costs and maximizes the usable space of the aircraft," said Hale. The new FEH will increase cameras, broadcasting and online technologies, such as Telemedicine, to expand training".
ORBIS maintains 13 offices worldwide that conduct outreach and training, capacity building and organizing of local volunteers who bring to the FEH the individuals whose lives will drastically change with medical treatment.
Global Corporate Sponsors of ORBIS include Alcon, FedEx, Pfizer, United Airlines, Standard Chartered, Fondation L'Occitane, and Omega.
There are many ways for ANN readers to help ORBIS. Examples include financial contributions, donation of United Airlines frequent flier miles, and donating for ORBIS anything that qualifies (e.g. memerobilia, household goods) through "eBay Giving Network". ORBIS also welcomes interest from new volunteers.