Global eye care hope soars with airborne teaching hospital


An aircraft that houses an ophthalmic teaching hospital, containing an on-board operating theatre, training and broadcasting facilities, and treatment rooms, recently visited London Stansted Airport in the UK.

By Caroline Richards

An aircraft that houses an ophthalmic teaching hospital, containing an on-board operating theatre, training and broadcasting facilities, and treatment rooms, recently visited London Stansted Airport in the UK.

The ‘Orbis Flying Eye Hospital’ – the only such facility in the world – will provide local ophthalmologists and their teams access to training as well as performing eye surgeries, helping prevent blindness in the developing world, where access to eye care is usually limited.

The custom-designed, third-generation ‘Orbis Flying Eye Hospital’ is situated on board an MD-10 aircraft that was donated by the company Fed-Ex, and is the result of a collaboration between Orbis, the international blindness charity to receive the hospital, and Novartis’ UK- and Ireland-based eye care division, Alcon, which provided surgical equipment and funding.

Between 11th March and 17th March 2017, supporters at Stansted Airport had a chance to glimpse the specially designed aircraft.


High-tech facilities

The on-board operating room gives ophthalmologists access to a phacoemulsification platform (Centurion, Alcon), which enhances surgical control during cataract surgery, helping improve outcomes for cataract patients.

Enhanced anterior and posterior capabilities during vitreoretinal surgeries will also be on hand (Constellation Vision System, Alcon).

The mobile facility also features a ‘classroom’ with 46 airline-style passenger seats, which enables two-way audio communication and three-dimensional filming, giving ophthalmologists access to real-time training and live surgery videos.

Partner doctors will receive free continuing medical education and mentorship from anywhere in the world via the Cybersight telemedicine platform, and they will be able to access difficult cases and share real-time diagnoses, helping bridge global eye care gaps.

The aircraft also features an AV/IT room, which links all on-board activity to the classroom, the Internet and globally; patient care and laser treatment room, where laser treatment training can be conducted; and an observation room, allowing visitors to watch live operations taking place in the adjacent operating room.

In addition, a sterilisation room will provide local nurses with guidance on how to sterilise surgical instruments and use ophthalmic tools. The sterilisation room is split into a designated dirty room, clean room and storeroom.

Also on the aircraft is a pre- and post-operative care room, where patients will be prepared for surgery and Orbis nurses will be able to administer further training.  

“Through our training programmes, we have enabled … medical professionals to treat many more people struggling with preventable blindness within their communities – restoring hope and vision to those who may have previously been unable to access the care they needed,” said Rebecca Cronin, CEO of Orbis UK.

The Flying Hospital took more than six years to make, and drew on the latest advances in avionics, hospital engineering, technology and medicine.

The initiative follows a number of endeavours by Orbis and its 400 medical volunteers to close the eye care gap between the developed and developing nations, the most recent being a programme in Trujilo, Peru, in 2015, and a project in Jinan, Shandong Province, China in 2014.

In 2017, Orbis plans to provide sustainable eye care services in Vietnam, Cameroon, Bangladesh and Peru.







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