Orbis International partnering with the Alcon Foundation, OMEGA to improve eye care in Zambia

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The Orbis Flying Eye Hospital will return to Zambia for a 3-week training project in Lusaka coinciding with World Sight Day on October 12.

Four-year-old Kapiya has an eye exam by an Orbis-trained community health worker in Mufulira, Zambia. (Image courtesy of Orbis International)

Four-year-old Kapiya has an eye exam by an Orbis-trained community health worker in Mufulira, Zambia. (Image courtesy of Orbis International)

Orbis International is rolling out a surgical training program in Zambia to aboard its Orbis Flying Eye Hospital to coincide with World Sight Day on October 12, with clinical staff and volunteer faculty providing hands-on simulation and surgical training to eye care professionals from across Zambia.

According to a an Orbis news release, Zambian ophthalmologists trained through Orbis-sponsored and other fellowships will work alongside Flying Eye Hospital staff and volunteer faculty to deliver simulation training to ophthalmology residents.

The project is receiving continuing support from the Alcon Foundation and OMEGA, and will focus on improving adult and pediatric eye care in Zambia, where it's estimated that at least 4% of the population experiences blindness that could be avoided, and there exists only one ophthalmologist per 556,000 Zambians, leaving eye care needs largely unmet.

Orbis noted in its news release that the project This project marks the second time the Flying Eye Hospital has held a training project in Zambia – the first taking place in Ndola in 2012 with a focus on pediatric ophthalmology. This will be the first project of its kind to take place in the capital city, Lusaka. According to the release, training programs will be conducted on the Flying Eye Hospital, currently located at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, and at Orbis's partner University Teaching Hospital-Eye Hospital.

Moreover, Orbis noted that the program will offer 3 weeks of simulation and hands-on surgical training through October 13 , along with tailored virtual Cybersight courses that will precede and complement in-person training. The project will also deliver interdisciplinary subspecialty training, including for cataract, the leading cause of blindness in Zambia.

Lucia Nadaf, country director of Orbis Zambia, noted in the news release the significance of the training visit.

“This partnership between Orbis and University Teaching Hospital-Eye Hospital marks a significant milestone in our ongoing efforts to address avoidable blindness and vision loss in Zambia,” Nadaf said in the news release. “We are grateful to the Alcon Foundation and OMEGA for their contributions to this project, which will allow us to take significant strides towards improving diagnosis, treatment and management of eye conditions across the country.”

Orbis noted in the news release the Alcon Foundation, which has sponsored the first have of the project, has been a supporter of Orbis for more than 40 years, providing monetary donations for the Flying Eye Hospital.

The organization also noted in its release Alcon Cares has provided additional support to the Flying Eye Hospital with donations of state-of-the-art ophthalmic equipment, surgical products, and supplies. Alcon's biomedical engineers and trainers also participate in Orbis programs, sharing their skills and knowledge to help program participants learn to operate and maintain critical medical technology, and will lead a biomedical engineering workshop in Lusaka during the current project.

Last year, Alcon sponsored a Flying Eye Hospital project held in Texas, Orbis's first in-person project on the plane following the start of the pandemic.

Royce Bedward , president of the Alcon Foundation, noted in the release the company views a world where treatable, preventable conditions that affect individuals' eye health receive the attention they need, when they need it, regardless of geography, gender, age or socioeconomic status.

“We know that the only way to make quality eye care more available and accessible is by cultivating self-sustaining eye health ecosystems, and developing well-trained eye care teams is an integral part of that work,” Bedward said in the news release. “That's why we're proud to partner with Orbis in Zambia to increase access to eye care and help people see and live brilliantly.”

OMEGA, sponsoring the second half of the project, has been a supporter of Orbis for more than a decade, and works in cooperation with its celebrity brand ambassadors to increase awareness of Orbis and its mission.

Raynald Aeschlimann, president and CEO of OMEGA, lauded the work being done by Orbis.

"I'm always deeply impressed by the work of our friends at Orbis and the latest initiative in Zambia is further proof of the team's commitment to its mission,” Aeschlimann said in the news release. "It's a huge source of pride to know that OMEGA is playing an important role in this life-changing work."

Orbis also acknowledged additional support for the current project from Aumund Foundation, which is covering costs for surgical treatment services and training tools and supplies. The foundation has partnered with Orbis since 2020 and supported programs in Nepal.

Orbis in Zambia

For more than a decade, Orbis has made great strides in improving eye health outcomes, particularly amongst vulnerable populations. According to the news release, Orbis Zambia has more than doubled the number of ophthalmologists in the country, from only 17 in 2017, to 38 in 2022. In addition, Orbis Zambia has expanded pediatric access to eye health services to every school district in the Copperbelt Province and more than tripled the number of children accessing services from 28,000 in 2018 to 100,000 in 2019.

According to the news release, the organization also supported the training fellowship of the first female vitreoretinal surgeon in the country and set up a vitreoretinal clinic at the University Teaching Hospitals-Eye Hospital. During the last 13 years, Orbis Zambia has supported the establishment or improvement of one pediatric eye hospital, three tertiary eye hospitals, one wet lab, and 32 primary eye care units.

The organization also noted that Orbis Zambia is committed to building a robust health system to prevent and combat eye diseases throughout the country and will continue to improve community awareness, increase surgical rates, and provide vital equipment to hospitals and eye care centers.

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