A plane amazing charity

by Gazette Reporter

EARLIER this month the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital – the world’s only airborne ophthalmic training facility – winged it to Ireland for the first time in ten years, giving visitors a first-hand look at its sight-saving, life-changing work around the world.

One of the visitors to the aircraft during its brief stayover at Dublin Airport was former radio producer Cllr Deirdre Donnelly (Ind) from Stillorgan, who has personally witnessed the work carried out by Orbis overseas.

The international charity fights blindness around the globe, with its Flying Eye Hospital – a specially designed and converted MD-10 aircraft – combining the latest in avionics, hospital engineering, technology and clinical expertise, making it possible to bring ophthalmic training to communities in developing countries.

Cllr Donnelly was wowed by the suite of medical facilities on board, and praised the charity’s work. She said: “In late 2013 I visited Ethiopia to make a radio documentary on disability in the developing world. I was really impressed with the incredible work Orbis do in that part of the world.”

More than 285 million people around the world are blind, and 4 out of 5 suffer from preventable conditions. Some 90% of those affected live in developing countries where they cannot access the type of sight-saving treatments that many others take for granted.

For more than 30 years, Orbis has helped countries build the skills and resources they need to address the problem.

The charity now has a team of more than 400 expert medical volunteers, from 30 countries, training local medical teams both in their own hospitals and on the Flying Eye Hospital, with a focus on quality and safety standards for patient care.

Over the past 10 years, irish people have invested €4.33 million in providing eye care services across the southern regions of Ethiopia – an area with a population of 2.2 million people.

By 2019, Orbis Ireland’s aim is to conduct 17,000 eye surgeries, provide more than 4,000 training sessions for eye care teams and health workers, and prescribe more than 6,000 pairs of glasses.

Orbis Ireland is based in the Sandyford Business District and each year paediatric ophthalmologist, Donal Bresnihan and optometrist, Tony McAleer of the Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin, travel with Orbis to Ethiopia to train medical teams in treatment and prevention.

Cllr Donnelly said: “When I was making the programme I visited some of the woredas, or small villages, with no electricity, toilets or running water.

“It is really sad to witness first-hand how blindness or any other kind of disability affects not just the person who has the condition, but so many others around them.

“It automatically means a reduced income and quite often the children – usually the girls – can’t go to school or partake in other activities because they have to become the carer. Restoring one blind person’s sight will have a positive effect on the lives of so many around them.

“I saw first-hand how an operation to restore sight is carried out, and I was there when the antibiotic that prevents Trachoma was being distributed.

“I learnt on my visit that a large percentage of the population live in remote rural communities. This poses problems for distribution and treatment, so that is why outreach facilities and mobile clinics are so important,” she said.

Maurice Cox, chairman of Orbis Ireland, said: “Over the past ten years, Orbis Ireland’s mission has been to eliminate a painful blinding eye disease – Trachoma – from the poorest regions of southern Ethiopia.

“Together, the unwavering commitment and partnership from the Irish people has allowed us to accomplish so much to provide basic eye care for those most in need.”

For every €1 raised by Orbis Ireland, 81 cent goes directly towards saving sight. The remaining 19 cent is invested in raising more funds and administration – for each €1 spent, Orbis Ireland raises €5.31.

For further information, see http://irl.orbis.org/

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