Our History

Orbis UK is an affiliate of Orbis International, a global charity that brings people together to fight avoidable blindness. Find out more about the amazing story behind the creation of Orbis.

Turning an Idea into Reality

Orbis is the result of a unique and lasting alliance forged between the medical and aviation industries. In the 1970s, leaders of these two industries came together to create the plan that led to the foundation of Orbis. We knew that the high costs of tuition, international travel and accommodation prevented most doctors and nurses in low-income countries from participating in overseas training programs. Even when they could afford to study abroad, their opportunity for direct clinical experience was limited because strict licensing laws often prevented them from performing surgery.

Mobile Teaching Hospital

The solution was a mobile teaching hospital. With a fully equipped hospital on board an aeroplane, doctors trained in the latest ophthalmic techniques, including paediatric ophthalmology, could bring their surgical knowledge and skills to doctors in low-income countries through hands-on training and lectures. A grant from USAID and funds from private donors enabled us to successfully convert a DC-8 plane into a fully functional teaching eye hospital. As replacement parts for the original DC-8 plane became more difficult and expensive to obtain, it became clear that a newer, larger aircraft was needed. In 1992, after a major fundraising appeal, we purchased a wide-body DC-10 to replace the DC-8. Within two years, we had converted the plane into an eye surgery hospital. Our inaugural mission was to Beijing, China.

Country Programmes Emerge

As we grew over the years, we added hospital-based training programmes and fellowships to our portfolio to provide additional skills-building opportunities for eye care professionals. In 1999, to build the capacity of local partners, we created long-term country programmes in Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India and Vietnam – similar programmes are also underway in parts of the Latin America and the Caribbean. Our permanent offices in these countries, run by local staff, develop and implement an array of multi-year projects to improve the quality and accessibility of eye care to residents, particularly in rural areas and impoverished urban communities. Many of these programmes focus on the treatment and prevention of childhood blindness, cataract, trachoma and corneal disease.

Telemedicine: Cost-Efficient Online Consultation

The launch of a global telemedicine initiative, Cybersight, in 2003 provided long-term follow-up in the form of distance mentoring and education. This award-winning programme extends training opportunities to physicians throughout the world by using the internet to connect local doctors with our volunteer ophthalmologists for professional mentoring, education and real-time consultation on patient cases and eye care techniques. Cybersight is the world’s only comprehensive online resource which provides ophthalmic education, professional mentoring and patient care consultation to eye care professionals in developing countries, 24/7.