Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

Grateful thanks to Bernd Kutzscher, MD

Barkan Members Serve As Orbis Volunteers

We are proud that many of our department members have participated in missions around the globe with Orbis International, known as the first Flying Eye Hospital. (Note the story about Dr. Rosalind Stevens in our Luminaries Section, who has devoted a significant amount of her career to Orbis efforts to fight ROP.) Link here.

It is also important to note that when was Orbis was first conceptualized by Dr. David Paton in the late 1960s many of those in the senior hierarchy in ophthalmology, including his mentor, Dr. Ed Maumanee, were very much against the concept. However, our own Bruce Spivey, who was serving as CEO of the Academy, actively supported the idea, going on fundraising missions to raise awareness for the fledgling organization.

The idea of Orbis began when Paton, a faculty member of The Wilmer Eye Institute at John Hopkins and later President of the American Board of Ophthalmology, recognized the lack of eye care and ophthalmic teaching in developing nations where blindness was widespread. It concerned him because 90% of the world’s avoidable blindness occurs in the developing world, so someone needed to try to close this gap. But the high costs of tuition, international travel and accommodations prevented most doctors and nurses in low-income countries from coming to the USA for training.

Paton persisted with the idea for a mobile teaching hospital and Project Orbis was officially launched in 1973, leading to a unique and lasting alliance between aviation and medicine. In Latin Orbis means “Of the Eye” and in Greek it means “around the world.”

A grant from USAID helped to fund the project and United Airlines donated a DC-8 which was  converted in into the world’s first fully functional teaching eye hospital. The first flight took off from the Ellington Air Force Base in Houston on it first project to Panama in May 1982.

As Orbis grew over the years, hospital-based training programs and fellowships were added to provide additional skills-building opportunities for eye care professionals. In 1999, to build the capacity of local partners, long-term country programs in Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India and Vietnam were created and similar programs are also underway in parts of the Latin America and the Caribbean. Permanent offices in these countries are run by local staff who implement an array of multi-year projects to improve the quality and accessibility of eye care. They work 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.

Below is a list of Barkan members and the countries where they have served: Note that we would love to include all those who participated – please contact us with your details!

Mike Allen – Senegal, Trinidad, Jamaica, Singapore, India, China

John Cavender – Mongolia, Vietnam, Cuba, Tanzania, Sri Lanka

Wayne Fung – China

Charlene Hsu-Winges – Myanmar, India

Thomas E. Johnson – Armenia,Bulgaria, Bangladesh,Mongolia, China, Kenya Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Peru, Paragauy

Bernd Kutzscher – Vietnam