For over 30 years Orbis, an international sight-saving charity, has been operating a Flying Eye Hospital to help eliminate avoidable blindness around the world. An innovative combination of medicine and aviation, it is an aircraft converted in a fully functioning eye hospital – initially a DC-8 more recently a DC-10 and now a newly converted third generation MD-10 platform.

The charity 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 lead to the foundation of Orbis. The high costs of tuition, international travel and accommodations prevented most doctors and nurses in developing 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.

The solution was a mobile teaching hospital. With a fully equipped hospital onboard an airplane, doctors trained in the latest ophthalmic techniques, including pediatric ophthalmology, could bring their surgical knowledge and skills to doctors in developing countries through hands-on training and lectures.

Orbis has now been teaching eye care teams in the developing world for almost 35 years and has performed more than 23.3 million treatments whilst training over 325,000 medical professionals during this time. They do this through hospital based programmes and utilising their one of a kind Flying Eye Hospital teaching facility, which features an operating theatre, lecture theatre and pre and post-op spaces on board. This plane allows medical volunteers, who donate their annual leave, to train ophthalmologists, nurses and anaesthetists in areas of need, to help them help more people suffering in their community.