Our History | Orbis
An old photo showing many original founding members of Orbis, sitting in a boardroom round a table

Our History

Go back over 40 years to the very beginning of the Orbis story...

Turning an Idea Into Reality

Orbis is the result of a unique and lasting alliance forged between the medical and aviation industries. In the 1970s, leaders of these two industries came together to create the plan that led to the foundation of Orbis. We knew that the high costs of tuition, international travel and accommodations prevented most health care professionals in low-resource countries from participating in overseas training programs. Even when they could afford to study abroad, their opportunity for direct clinical experience was limited because strict licensing laws often prevented them from performing surgery.

Mobile Teaching Hospital

The solution was a mobile teaching hospital. With a fully equipped hospital on board an airplane, health care professionals trained in the latest ophthalmic techniques (including pediatric ophthalmology). They could then bring their surgical knowledge and skills to health care professionals in low-income countries through hands-on training and lectures. A grant from USAID and funds from private donors enabled us to successfully convert a DC-8 plane into a fully functional teaching eye hospital. As replacement parts for the original DC-8 plane became more difficult and expensive to obtain, it became clear that a newer, larger aircraft was needed. In 1992, after a major fundraising appeal, we purchased a wide-body DC-10 to replace the DC-8. Within two years, we had converted the plane into an eye surgery hospital. Our inaugural mission was to Beijing, China.

Telemedicine: Cost-Efficient Online Consultation

The launch of a global telemedicine initiative, Cybersight, in 2003 provided long-term follow-up in the form of distance mentoring and education. This award-winning program extends training opportunities to health care professionals throughout the world by using the Internet. It connects local doctors with our volunteer ophthalmologists for professional mentoring, education, and real-time consultation on patient cases and eye care techniques. Cybersight is the world’s only comprehensive online resource which provides ophthalmic education, professional mentoring and patient care consultation to eye care professionals in developing countries, 24/7.

Orbis in Canada

Orbis Canada became an affiliate member of Orbis International in 1984, joining the fight against avoidable blindness in developing nations by creating awareness and raising funds throughout Canada.

Orbis Canada is proud to have donors from coast to coast in every province and territory as well as an incredible group of Canadian medical volunteers who train and restore vision on many different projects each year including those on board the Flying Eye Hospital.

Our signature event, Plane Pull for Sight, will celebrate its 10th Anniversary in 2018. Alongside FedEx Canada, Orbis has grown Plane Pull for Sight into a national campaign taking place in five Provinces, raising close to $1 million to help fight avoidable blindness.

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