What is ORBIS Canada and what does it do?
ORBIS Canada is part of a non-aligned, non-profit global development organization whose mission is to prevent and treat blindness by providing quality eye care to transform lives. ORBIS provides the tools, training and technology necessary for local partners to assess their needs and develop workable and lasting solutions to the tragedy of unnecessary blindness. By building their long-term capabilities, ORBIS helps its partner institutions take action—to reach a state where they can provide, on their own, quality eye care services that are affordable, accessible and sustainable.
Since taking flight in 1982, ORBIS' flagship Flying Eye Hospital (originally a DC-8 and now a DC-10) continues to serve as an innovative ophthalmic training facility, a tool to build longer-term partnerships, a channel for policy change, and an effective means to raise awareness and resources for the needlessly blind.
ORBIS is evolving and, with our Flying Eye Hospital, we are redefining our approach to making a sustainable difference in eye care. Our integrated and multi-platform program approach to blindness prevention now includes the Flying Eye Hospital, childhood blindness, telemedicine, healthcare technology and nursing initiatives. To date we've worked in 89 countries, enhanced the skills of over 288,000 health care personnel and helped establish services that have provided quality eye care treatment to more than 15 million people.
What is the organization's mission? Vision?
Mission: ORBIS prevents and treats blindness by providing quality eye care to transform lives.
Vision: A world in which no one is needlessly blind, where quality eye care, education, and treatment are available to every human being.
What does “ORBIS” mean?
The word "ORBIS" is drawn from both the Greek and Latin languages. In Greek, ORBIS means "of the eye." In Latin, it means "around the world." The founders of ORBIS chose it as our name because it so aptly captures our mission and global, long-term goal.
Who founded ORBIS and why?
In the early 1970's, Dr. David Paton, head of the Ophthalmology Department at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, conceived the idea of a flying eye hospital. His interest in international ophthalmology and the problems of eye care in both developed and developing nations had led him to travel extensively in teaching capacities throughout the globe. During his travels he had observed that the high costs of tuition, international travel, and accommodation prohibited the majority of doctors in developing countries from participating in overseas training programs. Even when they could afford to study abroad, their opportunities for direct clinical experience were limited because strict licensing laws often prevented them from performing surgery. Dr. Paton's solution was a mobile teaching eye hospital. With a fully equipped airplane, American doctors trained in the latest techniques could teach doctors in developing countries their surgical knowledge and skills through hands-on training and lectures.
By 1972 Dr. Paton recruited a small group of philanthropists, doctors and aviators including Betsy Trippe DeVecchi, daughter of Juan Trippe, founder of Pan American Airways; A L Ueltschi, founder and chairman of FlightSafety International; and L F "Mac" McCollum. Motivated by the fact that 80% of the world's visual disability can be avoided through treatment or prevention, the founding directors officially established Project ORBIS International in 1973.
How did the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital come about?
Many of the founders of ORBIS were members of the aviation and ophthalmic community who believed that airplanes could do more than transport passengers and freight. In 1980 United Airlines donated an ageing 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 medical professionals, 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. In 1994, the ORBIS DC-8 was formally retired, and the ORBIS DC-10, which remains in service today, took over as the world's only Flying Eye Hospital and completed its inaugural mission to Beijing, China. The ORBIS DC-8 is now on display at the Aerospace Museum in Beijing and plans are underway to create the third generation Flying Eye Hospital, which is expected to be ready for service in late 2012.
Why does ORBIS address blindness?
The number of people who are blind is far greater than most people may think – approximately 39 million children, women and men worldwide. An additional 246 million suffer from acute visual impairment and are at great risk of permanently losing their sight. Eighty percent of this blindness (31 out of 39 million cases) could be prevented or cured with existing eye care resources and medical interventions. That's why blindness is a relatively uncommon condition in countries like the United States, and an all-too-frequent tragedy in poorer countries.
Ninety percent of the world's blind people live in developing countries; there are as many as 15 million blind people in India, over six million in China and seven million in Africa. People who live in the developing world are five to ten times more likely to go blind than people who live in highly industrialized countries. To ORBIS, it's a moral imperative to close that gap.
What are the leading causes of blindness?
Almost half of all blindness worldwide is due to curable cataracts. According to the World Health Organization, cataract is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. The next most common causes are glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Trachoma, other corneal opacities, childhood blindness, and diabetic retinopathy each account for 3-5% of avoidable blindness. Other causes of preventable blindness and visual disability include vitamin A deficiency, onchocerciasis (river blindness), and optic neuropathy.
There are three major risk factors for visual impairment due to eye diseases are:
Age: More than 82% of all blindness is among children is about 10 times lower than that in adults, childhood blindness remains a high priority because of the expected number of years to be lived in blindness.
Gender: Studies consistently indicate that females in every region of the world and of all ages have a significantly higher risk for being visually impaired than males, mostly because of their longer life expectancy and, in poorer societies, because of their lack of access to services.
Socioeconomics: More than 90% of the world's visually impaired live in developing countries ORBIS core program areas, where we concentrate the majority of our efforts, focus on the prevention of childhood blindness. More than half of all ORBIS programs are directed toward blindness in children under the age of 15. It has been estimated that there are 1.4 million blind children in the world, 1 million of whom live in Asia and 300,000 in Africa. Although, the number of blind children is relatively low, they have a lifetime of blindness ahead, with an estimated 75 million blind years, second only to cataract. Approximately 500,000 children become blind each year, and more than half will die within one year of losing their sight. About 40% of the causes of childhood blindness are preventable or treatable.
Where is ORBIS most active?
ORBIS now channels the majority of its resources to five priority countries: Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India and Vietnam. In these countries, ORBIS has established permanent offices run by local health professionals who are responsible for developing comprehensive and integrated approaches to improve the quality and accessibility of local eye care services. Key strategies which underpin these initiatives include: the training of eye care professionals; the strengthening of eye care institutions such as hospitals, training centers, and eye banks; introducing health financing systems; providing ophthalmic equipment along with the introduction of related management systems; advocating for supportive national and global policies; and increasing awareness in the general public of the importance of sight and how to protect it.
What are the most important reasons to cure and prevent blindness?
Two of the most important reasons are the relative ease with which blindness can be prevented or cured through existing and cost-effective therapies, and the tremendous lifelong burden that blindness places upon people, their families and communities.
Blindness is one important area where people can make a real difference in the needless suffering of millions of people. Prevention and treatment interventions for vision loss are among the most cost effective health interventions currently available, including cataract surgery, prevention of trachoma, Mectizan® for the treatment of onchocerciasis (river blindness), measles immunization, vitamin A supplements for the prevention of childhood blindness and the provision of eyeglasses for individuals with refractive errors such as myopia.
Blindness has far-reaching implications touching on all aspects of human development – social, economic, and quality of life. People who lose their vision are unable to fulfill their potential as contributors to their families and communities. For instance, a woman who becomes visually impaired can no longer perform vital activities for her household. To fill this gap, an older daughter may be taken out of school to assume those responsibilities, forgoing her opportunity to break the cycle of poverty with a formal education. If many adults in a village become blind from an infectious disease like trachoma, an entire community may be debilitated. In some cultures, blind people are shunned or discriminated against. In fact, many children who are born blind, or who become blind at an early age, are simply left to die in some societies. Others die as a result of the condition that caused their blindness in the first place, such as vitamin A deficiency. The economic productivity loss associated with blindness is conservatively estimated in the tens of billions of dollars per year – productivity which is vital to countries and communities struggling to overcome poverty and deprivation.
How does ORBIS' work differ from that of other blindness organizations?
Perhaps the most striking difference is the fact that ORBIS owns and operates the world's only Flying Eye Hospital, which operates primarily as a teaching hospital, providing medical education to doctors, nurses, biomedical engineers, anesthesiologists and other critical support personnel. Equally important, the ORBIS aircraft is a highly recognizable icon, which draws the attention of the general public and policy makers to the often overlooked issue of preventable blindness. A visit from the ORBIS DC-10 to a country is usually a major news event, and ORBIS works carefully to ensure that it is also a catalyst for long-term improvements in a country's eye care capacities, as well as its government's commitment to addressing the problem of preventable blindness.
What also differentiates ORBIS is the goal of creating sustainable eye care infrastructure "from the ground up" within the countries where it is active. ORBIS is a blindness prevention pioneer – venturing into places where solutions to preventable blindness are uncharted and working with local partners to guide the way through innovation and a "can-do" commitment to fostering lasting improvement in the quality and availability of eye care. ORBIS programs are dedicated to training, so that the skills delivered are carried on by local institutions after our volunteers and staff depart. Our goal is to build strength, rather than dependency. ORBIS collaborates closely with a variety of partners – hospitals, non-profit organizations, ministries of health, and community organizations – to strengthen their ability to design, manage, and sustain programs in blindness prevention over the long term.
How does ORBIS select patients who will be chosen for surgery programs?
Prior to the start of a program, local doctors pre-select patients whose conditions represent teaching opportunities. Selected patients are then screened by ORBIS volunteer faculty members once they arrive at a program site. The patients given priority are bilaterally blind, cannot afford to have the surgery otherwise, and represent good teaching cases. Local doctors maintain oversight of patients before, during, and after surgery.
What quality control systems does ORBIS have in place?
There are several levels of quality control. For surgeries conducted on the Flying Eye Hospital, ORBIS complies with all relevant American Medical Standards of care to ensure that patients are in suitable health before being discharged. ORBIS partner hospitals and doctors are available to provide ongoing care if necessary. Several weeks after surgery, each patient is re-examined by ORBIS doctors. For those who need additional help, ORBIS creates detailed case management plans. For non-surgical programs, local ORBIS staff regularly monitor the work. These staff members are medical and public health professionals who understand the local culture and how best to work within the existing healthcare system. They report regularly to ORBIS, which also conducts periodic monitoring visits to ensure program quality.
How does ORBIS decide where it works?
Several factors influence ORBIS' decision as to where it will work, including:
Invitation: The success of ORBIS programs depends on support and collaboration with local authorities, particularly government authorities and the ophthalmic community.
Need: ORBIS looks at comparative need and where the prevalence of blindness is highest.
Effect: ORBIS selects locations where its work can have the greatest impact.
Security: ORBIS does not wish to put its patients, volunteers or staff at undue risk.
Why does ORBIS fight blindness overseas but not in Canada?
ORBIS' founding leadership decided to focus on areas of the world where blindness is most prevalent and where access to professional eye care is most limited. More than 90% of the world's visually impaired population lives in developing countries. For approximately 80% of them, their condition could be either prevented or cured with current treatments, but they often have no access to modern eye care and no hope of treatment. ORBIS does not conduct programs in the Canada because quality eye care is more readily and widely available here.
Does ORBIS really need my contribution to perform its work?
Absolutely. The vast majority of cash gifts come from individual donations, which are vital to conduct ORBIS programs. While preventable blindness is one of the world's most serious health and economic issues, it is not among the most attention-getting. As a result, many of the people who support charities don't recognize the magnitude of global blindness or the cost-efficiency of available solutions. Every dollar individuals contribute to ORBIS helps to close that gap and takes us one step closer to achieving our vision of a world in which avoidable blindness is eliminated.
How do I become an ORBIS donor? Individual contributions to the work of ORBIS may be made via the ORBIS Canada website, www.orbiscanada.ca, or mailed to: ORBIS Canada, 375-340 College Street, Toronto, Ontario M5T 3A9. Whichever giving option you choose, all donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law and a receipt will be issued with our grateful thanks