Virtual training tackling leading cause of childhood blindness

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Led by eye care nonprofit Orbis with support from Alcon, the training will build eye care professionals' skills to treat retinopathy of prematurity in Latin America

Orbis International has launched a new virtual Flying Eye Hospital project that will train eye care professionals across Latin America to treat retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), the leading cause of blindness among children worldwide.

Affecting premature infants, the potentially blinding condition has become increasingly common in Latin America as more babies survive early birth, but few hospitals have the skills and resources to deliver the care needed to prevent this disease.

The three-week virtual Flying Eye Hospital project, with support from Alcon, launched Aug. 26 will enable participating ophthalmologists, neonatologists, pediatricians, nurses, low-vision specialists and others to grow their skills to detect and treat ROP while working together as a cohesive team.

Training will be carried out in Spanish and will include panel discussions and live lectures delivered by Orbis's volunteer faculty.

Orbis's Flying Eye Hospital is the world's only fully accredited ophthalmic teaching hospital on board an MD-10 aircraft. For nearly four decades, the Flying Eye Hospital has traveled the world delivering training for eye care professionals in areas with the greatest need.

Due to the impact of COVID-19, Orbis reimagined its Flying Eye Hospital trainings in a virtual setting in 2020 to ensure that eye care teams could still access critical training safely during the pandemic. 

Last year, Orbis's virtual Flying Eye Hospital projects had more than 850 enrollments by participants from 9 countries.

The new virtual Flying Eye Hospital project builds on the "The Fundamentals of Retinopathy of Prematurity" course Orbis launched on its telemedicine platform, Cybersight, in 2020, with support from Alcon.

Because of high demand for the course among eye care professionals in Latin America, where ROP is especially prevalent, Orbis is releasing a Spanish-language version of the course in late summer.

"Getting training to eye care teams means they can better help patients in their communities – and nothing brings training closer to home than virtual solutions," Derek Hodkey, president and CEO of Orbis International, said in a statement. "We could not do this work without the support of partners like Alcon that share our vision of a world where no one loses their sight because they cannot access the care they need."

Orbis has been working in Latin America for more than three decades – conducting ophthalmic trainings for doctors, nurses, community health workers and others, and delivering services including pediatric eye screenings and surgeries in countries such as Bolivia, Chile, Guyana and Peru.

Melissa Thompson, Alcon head of Global Corporate Social Responsibility and president of the Alcon Foundation, noted that the company has long supported a continuum of care, “working to help people at every stage of life see brilliantly."

"Building off of our 42-year partnership, Alcon is supporting Orbis in training eye care professionals to tend to the youngest of patients and prevent ROP from robbing them of their sight,” she said in a statement.