An old photo showing many original founding members of Orbis, sitting in a boardroom round a table

Our History

Turning an Idea into Reality

Dr Luu And Dr Choyce

Orbis is the result of a unique and lasting alliance forged between the medical and aviation industries. In the 1970s, leaders of these two industries came together to create the plan that led to the foundation of Orbis. We knew that the high costs of tuition, international travel and accommodations prevented most doctors and nurses in low-income countries from participating in overseas training programs. Even when they could afford to study abroad, their opportunity for direct clinical experience was limited because strict licensing laws often prevented them from performing surgery.

Mobile Teaching Hospital

Cross Section Of The Plane Final

The solution was a mobile teaching hospital. With a fully equipped hospital on board an airplane, doctors trained in the latest ophthalmic techniques, including pediatric ophthalmology, could bring their surgical knowledge and skills to doctors in low-income countries through hands-on training and lectures. A grant from USAID and funds from private donors enabled us to successfully convert a DC-8 plane into a fully functional teaching eye hospital. As replacement parts for the original DC-8 plane became more difficult and expensive to obtain, it became clear that a newer, larger aircraft was needed. In 1992, after a major fundraising appeal, we purchased a wide-body DC-10 to replace the DC-8. Within two years, we had converted the plane into an eye surgery hospital. Our inaugural mission was to Beijing, China.

Country Programs Emerge

Mg 1442

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

Cybermain

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.

Orbis in Hong Kong

Orbis set up office in Hong Kong since 1985. Today, the office has a staff of some 45 whose main goal is to prevent blindness worldwide by raising funds and increasing awareness of eye health issues. Recent years have seen the office recruiting numerous local ophthalmologists to Orbis’s global sight-saving team. Their role is to visit developing countries where they teach their skills to local counterparts who then share their newfound abilities with their colleagues.

To show thanks for Hong Kong donors, every year, Orbis will invite them to visit the Flying Eye Hospital and take part in a sight-saving field trip. The most unforgettable element of such trips undoubtedly comes when donors visit hospitals and witness the 15-minute operation that transforms lives.