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Orbis – The Flying Eye Hospital

Posted: Apr 13 2017

The latest Flying Eye Hospital was launched in June 2016.

Donated by Fed-Ex, designed by experts in aviation and medicine and brought to life by generous supporters, this amazing plane is bringing the world together to fight blindness. We were fortunate enough to get access to see it for ourselves with a VIP tour of the plane at Stansted airport.

The Flying Eye Hospital is the world’s only state of the art teaching eye hospital on board an MD-10 aircraft. It is equipped with everything needed to unite the world to fight avoidable blindness. The plane provides hands-on training to local eye care professionals in the heart of under resourced communities around the world. Not only does it ensure a sustainable eye care legacy is left in its wake, it acts as a flying ambassador waving the flag for improved eye care services wherever it lands.

The aircraft itself was generously donated by Fed-Ex and custom designed to incorporate the latest in avionics, hospital engineering, technology and clinical expertise. It includes a fully accredited surgical suite donated by Alcon, treatment rooms and a 46-seat classroom: a hub for skills transfer, learning and innovation. It has the latest in 3D technology and broadcasting capabilities ensuring that they can train more doctors, nurses and medical professionals than ever before.

History of Orbis

In the 1970s, Houston ophthalmologist Dr. David Paton had a bold vision – to use aviation to deliver medical education to the eyes of the world. Motivated by the fact that 80% of the world’s visual impairment can be avoided or cured, Dr. Paton recruited a small group of philanthropists, doctors, and aviators.

In 1980 Eddie Carlson, former chairman of United Airlines, agreed to donate United’s oldest DC- 8 aircraft to the Project. With a grant from USAID and funds from private donors, extensive modifications were made to the plane to convert it into a fully functional teaching eye hospital. Staffed by a highly-skilled team of ophthalmologists, anesthesiologists, nurses and biomedical technicians, the Orbis DC-8 Flying Eye Hospital took off from Houston, Texas for its first program in Panama in the spring of 1982.

By 1992 the DC-8 was more than 30 years old, and replacement parts were becoming more difficult and expensive to obtain. Orbis programs were also expanding in scope, and it became clear that a newer, larger aircraft was needed to replace the DC-8. In 1992, with donations from three very generous individuals, Orbis purchased a DC-10, which had more than twice the interior space of the original plane.

This Third Generation Flying Eye Hospital is an MD-10 aircraft that can fly nearly twice as far as its predecessor. It only requires two pilots instead of three and incorporates some of the most sophisticated ophthalmic training equipment in the world.

What does Orbis do?

Millions of adults and children in the developing world do not have access to the eye treatment they desperately need and we take for granted. Through the unique Flying Eye Hospital, expert medical volunteers, hospital partners and eye care programmes, Orbis has the tools and expertise to train and treat those who need help the most.

“Orbis is unique because they work alongside local counterparts, building confidence and competency. It is all about Orbis’s partners, not about us. By enhancing the skills of local eye care teams, they are the ones empowered to take care of their own patient populations. This focus on self-sufficiency is a future where access to quality eye care becomes the norm and not the exception.”

– Roberto Pineda, MD, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Orbis Volunteer Faculty

Ali’s role in supporting Orbis and other Eye Charities

Ali has been a volunteer surgeon for over 15 years travelling to various countries including Bali, Madagascar, Ghana, India and Bangladesh to teach and train local surgeons as well as treat patients that would otherwise be blind from their eye condition – something that seems inconceivable in today’s world. Ali has registered his interest to work with Orbis as a volunteer surgeon and is looking forward to his first trip.

Currently he is preparing for a trip in November 2017 when he will travel to Cambodia via a government charity to treat patients who are blinded by cataracts as well as to share his skills and knowledge to local surgeons.

Orbis Hospital


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