Specialist training

In normal years, our medical volunteers travel around the world, passing on expert skills and knowledge to local eye health professionals. Of course, this wasn't possible after March 2020. But thanks to our experience in technology-driven remote learning, we quickly adapted. In total, 119 medical volunteers from 21 countries – including the UK – delivered virtual training sessions and webinars online.

Human Resources for Eye Health

Our Human Resources for Eye Health programme is designed to provide hands-on training to strengthen five institutions' training facilities and clinical capacity across East Africa. This year we adapted quickly to keep on track, delivering courses remotely on Medical Retina, Paediatric Ophthalmology and Glaucoma. One of the highlights was a series of webinars on surgery simulation given by Will Dean, a UK medical volunteer, practising consultant, and clinical research fellow from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in collaboration with the Rwanda International Institute of Ophthalmology and the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda.

The Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

The Orbis Flying Eye Hospital is a one-of-a-kind ophthalmic teaching hospital on board a customised MD-10 aircraft. This year, though it couldn’t travel as normal, its mission remained in flight. Becoming the virtual Flying Eye Hospital, it facilitated the transfer of expert knowledge to eye care professionals – from ophthalmologists and ophthalmology residents, to nurses, biomedical engineers, and technicians – in nine countries across three continents.

The Orbis Flying Eye Hospital.

In 2020, our virtual Flying Eye Hospital has...

....delivered 93 live training sessions...

...by 47 medical volunteers...

...to eye care professionals in 9 countries.

Staff and volunteers pivoted quickly to focus all the Flying Eye Hospital's training and broadcast facilities on remote learning, delivering a total of 93 live training sessions. And using Cybersight, our award-winning online training and mentorship platform, we saw a dramatic increase in take-up by eye care professionals keen to enhance their skills despite coronavirus restrictions.

To date, as we still live with the pandemic, our virtual Flying Eye Hospital projects are proving more than a stopgap. Once our team of experts can safely resume their in-person schedule, a new, enhanced Flying Eye Hospital training model will blend in-person and virtual courses around the world.

Charles's Story

Meet Charles, an ophthalmic clinical officer (OCO) from Chililabombwe in Copperbelt province, Zambia. Previously a general clinical officer, he became angry about the number of local people going blind simply because they could not afford journeys to hospitals in larger towns. So, four years ago, he took advantage of Orbis's specialist training to provide expert eye care to patients in his community.

As a border town with lots of through-traffic, Chililabombwe has been especially vulnerable to coronavirus transmission. Fortunately, Charles's Orbis training had included infection control. So when the pandemic hit, he pitched in, collecting samples and escorting COVID-positive patients. He explained: "This is not my area of work, but we're doing it. Why? Because we want to fight the one common enemy: coronavirus".

"One day, coronavirus will go. But people who live with those eye conditions – they may remain blind for good. So it's better we continue."

Charles, Ophthalmic Clinical Officer, Zambia

It is challenging work. "We are scared. Everything has changed. We wear masks all the time, and you have to be in full PPE. No wonder we are calling it the 'new normal'. I always need to be close to my family. But when I get home, I don't have contact with anyone until I have changed, had a shower, and made sure I have no more contact with the infected environment."

Charles Chikwanda an Orbis-trained ophthalmic clinical officer from Zambia.
Charles Chikwanda an Orbis-trained ophthalmic clinical officer from Zambia.

Under the government's direction, Charles's clinic has remained open during the pandemic, though they have seen a drop-off in the number of patients visiting. The community is wary, especially of examinations that require patients and eye care workers to be in close contact. But Charles is undeterred: "One day, coronavirus will go. But people who live with those eye conditions – they may remain blind for good. So it's better we continue."

Thanks to Charles, the people of Chililabombwe are better protected from coronavirus and avoidable blindness.