Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex spoke yesterday in support of global eye care nonprofit Orbis International, at a virtual event to discuss delivering eye care to those most in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Countess, as Global Ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, listened as representatives from the nonprofit outlined how they adapted at the start of the pandemic to ensure they could effectively support their partners across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, where the majority of those with vision loss in the world live.
Globally, 1.1 billion people live with vision loss, and 90% is avoidable. Orbis has been transforming lives through the prevention and treatment of avoidable blindness for nearly four decades. With a close network of partners, the organization mentors, trains and inspires local eye care teams – from community workers to doctors and nurses – so that they can save and restore vision in their communities.
Orbis does this through its long-term programs, on the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, a state-of-the-art ophthalmic teaching hospital on board a customized aircraft, and through its telemedicine platform, Cybersight.
The panel of Orbis experts included:
- Derek Hodkey, President and Chief Executive Officer of Orbis International
- Dr. Rob Walters, Trustee of Orbis UK
- Lucia Nadaf, Country Director of Orbis Zambia.
Supporters were told how, due to the pandemic, Orbis made the difficult decision to postpone in-person Flying Eye Hospital projects. The Flying Eye Hospital may not be traveling, but Orbis’s mission is still in flight. The nonprofit quickly adapted to provide virtual Flying Eye Hospital projects through Cybersight to ensure that eye care professionals could continue to grow their skills.
In 2020, Orbis trained 26,036 eye health professionals in 192 countries/regions through Cybersight – which is over three times more individuals and nine more countries than in 2019.
Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex spoke to the audience about her previous visits to Orbis projects in India and Bangladesh. There she saw firsthand the impact of training at local hospitals and onboard the Flying Eye Hospital, as well as spoke to children who had received surgery and witnessed their reaction as their bandages were removed.
Her Royal Highness said: “The care given by the Orbis team is absolutely wonderful. The children, they’re going to have a procedure that is slightly uncomfortable, but actually, at the end of the day, when they suddenly realize that they can see and the people around them are so friendly and are just there to help them, this is an experience that goes beyond the surgery.
“I love the way that Orbis always trained local doctors, for local needs and leaves a legacy behind wherever it goes. It’s a self-fulfilling legacy and that’s the beauty of Orbis. You don’t just bring new techniques and new technology into countries that need help, Orbis trains eye surgeons and ophthalmologists to actually do it for themselves, working with what they have.”
The panel of Orbis experts highlighted other areas of the organization’s work, including training teams in Zambia, delivering eye care to the refugee population in southeast Bangladesh and tackling trachoma in Ethiopia.
Trachoma is an infectious cause of blindness; repeat infections can result in a painful condition in which a person’s eyelashes scrape against their cornea. This can be prevented and treated with access to clean water, antibiotics, and surgery. In December last year, Orbis supported healthcare workers to deliver a staggering 7.5 million doses of antibiotics to 87 districts in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region in Ethiopia.
The Countess acknowledged the challenges brought about by the pandemic and thanked Orbis donors for their ongoing support. She added: “We have a long way to go, and Covid has really not helped, but we can’t forget that actually, these eye health issues continue to happen.
“If you haven’t seen the restoration of sight being given to somebody, it’s truly one of the most incredible, beautiful, and wonderful things that you will ever witness. And it can be done so easily and so simply. We just need the ability to do it and opportunity, and that’s what many people at this event have allowed Orbis to do. Thank you on behalf of every individual whose sight has been restored by Orbis and the team.”
Derek Hodkey, President and Chief Executive Officer of Orbis International, said: “It was an honor to host Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex at our virtual event and to hear her moving recollections from visiting Orbis projects in India and Bangladesh.
“The past year has brought many new challenges in delivering our sight-saving programs, but by embracing the power of innovation and technology, we have ensured that eye care professionals everywhere could continue building the skills they need to provide quality care to patients in their community. I am so proud of our staff and partners around the world – and grateful for the generosity of our supporters who have kept our mission going strong.”