The world’s only flying eye hospital, run by eye care charity Orbis, recently landed in Doha as part of an awareness campaign in collaboration with Qatar Creating Vision and the Qatar British Business Forum (QBBF). This unique ambulatory hospital is located within a refurbished MD-10 aircraft that took six years to fit out as a medical facility complete with operating theatre, lecture space, and a pre and post operative care room.

Qatar Creating Vision has partnered with Orbis to provide eye screenings and treatments to 5.5 million children in India and Bangladesh during a four year programme. The eye care initiative has been funded with approximately QAR 30 million donation from the Qatar Fund for Development. It is vital to provide access to eye health services, particularly as 50% of childhood blindness is preventable or treatable which means that hundreds of thousands of children are suffering unnecessarily due to issues of accessibility or cost. Without early intervention many children are forced to give up their education, which can lead to isolation and a lifetime of poverty.

Eye care projects

In Bangladesh a specialist centre will be established to tackle Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), an eye condition that affects premature babies. Orbis will also tackle childhood blindness in India, which has over 320,000 blind children, more than in any other country. They will provide hands-on ophthalmology training and help to strengthen local healthcare infrastructure so that lasting changes can be made within communities.

Orbis will also work with schools to screen children and provide glasses to those who cannot see the blackboard, as well as educating communities about the signs of blindness and how to respond should they experience symptoms.

Allan Thompson, Orbis’ Director of External Relations, stressed the importance of screening:

Through the REACH (Refractive Errors Amongst Children) programme in India we have already screened one million children, and are finding about 10-15% of children have some kind of eye condition which requires either glasses or surgical intervention. The next step is to provide the eye surgeries through our 11 partnering hospitals across India. We also work with the community to combat the social stigma of eye care which is a big issue particularly for girls.’

Before the Flying Eye Hospital can conduct a programme in a country it has to be invited. A team will then make an assessment of the local eye care facilities, and what their specific requirements are. This process can take around two years to plan, due to various logistical matters including the organising of staff and volunteers such as ophthalmologists, nurses and and anaesthesia specialists.

Dr Rahul Ali

Once the Flying Eye Hospital arrives, Orbis delivers two to three weeks’ worth of training both onboard the plane and at local hospitals. All eye care treatment s free for patients, and all patients will receive treatment either in the flying eye hospital or at the local partner hospitals. Dr Rahul Ali, Country Director for India, highlighted the importance of the flying eye hospital as a training tool:

We identify teaching cases that will allow us to train medical professionals. It’s not about hundreds of surgeries, it’s about five surgeries done well, and showing every step to the trainee and the classroom observers. This on-site training is augmented by an online platform, Cybersight, which facilitates ongoing learning. This strategy of teaching ensures that lasting changes are made within communities long after the Orbis eye hospital has flown to its next destination.

For more information about Qatar Creating Vision, or to get involved in the programme, visit their website

Author: Shahmim Akram

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