New York, October 9, 2020: This World Sight Day, Orbis International is celebrating 20 years of work in India training eye care professionals and working with local partners to fight avoidable blindness.
As part of this anniversary, the leading global nonprofit has also released a report on the status of child eye health in India and unveiled plans for a virtual Flying Eye Hospital training program for Indian eye care professionals through its award-winning telemedicine platform, Cybersight.
Orbis has made far-reaching impact – for children in particular – during the past two decades in India, one of the first countries where Orbis established a local office.
“When our work began, pediatric ophthalmology was not yet seen as a distinct specialty in India, but with the country having the highest number of blind children in the world, it has been critically important to focus on building the skills of eye care teams to meet the unique needs of children’s eye health,” said Dr. Danny Haddad, Chief of Programs at Orbis International.
“This World Sight Day,” he added, “we’re proud to celebrate all of our partners in India who have made remarkable progress in the fight against avoidable blindness.”
When Orbis began working in India, there was only one eye care center for every 100 million children across the country.
Orbis has since developed a comprehensive network of 33 Children’s Eye Centers across 17 states and 3 Pediatric Ophthalmology Learning and Training Centers, each able to serve around 20 million children.
In 2016, Orbis launched its REACH program, which ran through 2019 and addressed uncorrected refractive error (the need for glasses), which can make it difficult to succeed in school.
The program was implemented across 15 districts in eight states to provide comprehensive eye care to over four million school-aged children.
Ultimately, through the REACH program, Orbis screened nearly five million children, prescribed over 159,000 pairs of glasses, performed nearly 1,800 surgeries and trained around 72,000 eye care professionals.
Over the past two decades, the organization has conducted more than 17.5 million pediatric eye screenings, performed 103,000 surgeries on children and hosted 180,000 ophthalmic trainings completed by doctors, nurses, community health workers and others.
Report on the Status of Child Eye Health in India
In conjunction with the anniversary, Orbis India is releasing The Status of Child Eye Health in India: A Comprehensive Report. Key takeaways from this report include:
*The vast majority of childhood blindness in India can be avoided. With 270,000 children who are blind, India has the largest number of blind children in any one country in the world, but 85% of this blindness is due to avoidable causes, underscoring the importance of ensuring access to quality eye care.
* Causes of avoidable childhood blindness begin at the community level and extend into lingering limitations of eye care systems. Communities in India, especially in rural areas, often struggle to access health services close to home; additionally, they can encounter numerous myths and misconceptions around eye conditions that lead to not understanding the importance of seeking care. At the same time, many eye care facilities still lack adequate infrastructure, equipment and skilled, trained pediatric ophthalmology teams.
* Continued investment in eye health is critical. To continue to improve children’s eye health in India, greater investment is needed in raising awareness of the importance of eye care, especially preventive care, training of specialized teams to provide that care, and collaboration both inside and outside the medical community. The COVID-19 pandemic has given further emphasis to the need to build strong eye care systems that can weather challenges while continuing to serve patients.
“While we know there is much progress still to be made, we and our partners are looking forward to the work ahead and improving eye health for even more children across the country,” said Dr. Rishi Borah, Country Director for Orbis India.
“In the years to come, we plan to expand our reach even further, focusing on ensuring that more people can access the care they need in their own communities and on leveraging technology like Cybersight to accelerate our training of eye care teams,” he added.
India Virtual Flying Eye Hospital Program
Orbis’s Flying Eye Hospital is the world’s only fully accredited ophthalmic teaching hospital on board an MD-10 aircraft.
For nearly four decades, the Flying Eye Hospital has traveled the world delivering best-in-class training for eye care professionals in areas with the greatest need.
This year, the plane was scheduled to make its 19th visit to India since 1988, but due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Orbis will instead offer a virtual Flying Eye Hospital program for Indian eye care professionals.
The program will be carried out through Cybersight using a combination of pre-learning modules, recorded and live lectures and discussion sessions – a model that Orbis launched earlier this year and has also offered for eye care professionals from Bolivia, Cameroon, Chile, Ghana, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Peru and Zambia.
Beginning later this month, the India program will offer four courses on medical retina procedures related to diabetic eye disease, cataract surgery, ophthalmic nursing and biomedical engineering.
The program will be available for 160 eye care professionals, including ophthalmologists and residents, nurses, and biomedical engineers and technicians, from Orbis’s partner institutions across the country.
In an especially innovative model, the cataract surgery course will include remote simulation training.
Participants will receive artificial eyes on which to practice their surgical techniques, following interactive sessions with Orbis Volunteer Faculty (medical experts).
Participants will then upload video recordings of themselves completing the procedures, using surgical microscopes in socially distanced stations in their local hospitals, for evaluation and feedback from Volunteer Faculty. Cataract remains the leading cause of blindness worldwide.