Albertus Weldison Nonto
A group of international journalists recently gathered in a Vietnamese classroom to watch a surgical procedure in progress at the operating room of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, on board a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 aircraft.
Dr. Monte A. Del Monte, professor of ophthalmology and visual science at the University of Michigan and a volunteer doctor with Orbis International, was on hand to explain the details of the case, involving a young Vietnamese girl who had lost her sight to disease. The operation was completed in only two hours.
Also on hand to provide assistance were local doctors and nurses. “The doctors are also learning from their counterparts at Orbis to upgrade their capabilities in surgery, so that they can do the same work locally,” said David M. Johnson, director of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital.
In another classroom, an ophthalmic teaching facility was set up to help eye-care professionals get hands-on training in the latest medical knowledge to help treat patients and restore sight.
From the outside, it looks like a regular aircraft, but the flying eye hospital is doing invaluable work in taking care of and treating preventable blindness all over the world. On its most recent outing to Vietnam, GlobeAsia was able to gain first-hand experience on its efforts to tackle eye problems globally.
World of blindness
According to the World Health Organization, about 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide and 39 million are blind. Additionally, about 90% of the world’s visually impaired live in developing countries including Indonesia and Vietnam.
Huong Tran, head of the Orbis representative office in Vietnam, says that a lack of care in childhood, along with poor living conditions, has saddled a large proportion of Vietnamese with eye problems. Orbis set up a representative office there last year to oversee all of its programs in the region. Besides promoting the establishment of a dedicated eye center and hospital, Tran was in a position to advocate better eye-care policies in the country while creating a system to improve local eye-care professionals.
Some sources add that 15% of Indonesia’s population suffers from vision impairments including moderate visual impairment, severe visual impairment and total blindness. Orbis is cognizant of Indonesia’s condition, and acknowledges that serious efforts are needed as the number of cases increases.
The non-profit humanitarian organization has worked in 89 countries on hospital-based training programs. The Flying Eye Hospital has visited 77 of those nations.
Johnson, singling out eye care as an important cog in any healthcare system, noted that the Orbis program has so far enjoyed great success, both in conducting surgeries and educating eye-care professionals. He added that Orbis works with various organizations to secure financial and technical support.
Recently, the flying hospital visited Indonesia, working with the Dr Soetomo Teaching Hospital at Airlangga University in Surabaya to conduct an intensive skills-exchange program for eye-care professionals, and to deliver sight-saving surgery to pre-screened, visually-impaired patients.
Luxury watch brand Omega is only too happy to bolster Orbis’ efforts. On his visit to Danang Eye Hospital in Vietnam and the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, Omega CEO Stephen Urquhart acknowledged the sincerity of the Orbis medical team, and noted the uniqueness of the program: “Omega has been participating in the program for more than two years, and I can feel the good of the program. We are happy and proud to help in this good work, and will definitely continue to support the program,” he stated.
Omega’s other charitable activities include support for the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the promotion of a sustainable environment worldwide, but Urquhart singled out the ORBIS as something special. “I am very satisfied with the program, and we don’t help only from a money perspective. It is Orbis’ show; wherever they go to run their programs, we follow and try to help spread word of their good work to the world.”
Four years ago, Omega launched the De Ville Hour Vision Blue to celebrate the company’s partnership with Orbis. Nick Hayek, CEO of Omega’s parent company the Swatch Group, observes that the product reflects perfection and transparency, and champions the ideas of both outer and inner beauty.
Urquhart believes that participating in Orbis’ work will go a long way in helping to restore sight to the blind all over the world. “With a sum of money, Omega can buy advertisements in magazines, but spending the same amount on a donation will spread the word about Orbis and encourage others to help.”