Orbis and Alcon launch training for Caribbean eye care teams to tackle preventable blindness in local communities

ByMartha R. Camara

Aug 5, 2022

Orbis International, with support from Alcon, will launch its first in-person training project onboard the Flying Eye Hospital – a fully accredited ophthalmology teaching hospital onboard an aircraft – since the start of the pandemic on August 8.

Over a two-week period, Orbis clinical staff and volunteer faculty along with Alcon bioengineers and trainers will share their knowledge with nearly 50 ophthalmologists, ophthalmology residents, nurses and biomedical engineers from several Caribbean countries,1 helping them learn skills to tackle avoidable blindness in their communities.

Participants will hone their skills using state-of-the-art ophthalmic surgical simulation training technology at the Flying Eye Hospital, currently located at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, and additional hands-on training at the Alcon Experience Center (AEC), a training center on Alcon’s nearby campus. Simulation training allows mobile eye care teams to build confidence in a training environment before moving on to actual surgical procedures.

Learning surgical skills for cataract extraction will be a major focus of training. Cataract remains the leading cause of blindness worldwide2 although it can be treated with an operation which can take as little as ten to fifteen minutes. Participants will also learn how to treat other conditions that threaten vision, including glaucoma, the most common cause of irreversible blindness.

A select group of these participants, who are already highly experienced ophthalmologists, will also participate in a train-the-trainer course, which will deepen their ability to train the next generation of eyecare professionals. This helps ensure continuity and local access to eye care in their home country.

“When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we had to make the difficult decision to cancel the second half of a training we were delivering in Fort Worth in partnership with Alcon, so we couldn’t think of a more suitable location to the Flying Eye Hospital to return to in-person programming,” said Derek Hodkey, President and CEO of Orbis International. “As the aircraft has continued its mission virtually for the past two years, it’s an unmistakable sign of hope, a chance to pick up where we left off, and an opportunity to apply new innovations to our fight against preventable blindness.”

Alcon, through its charitable foundations Alcon Foundation and Alcon Cares, has generously supported Orbis for over forty years, providing monetary donations and state-of-the-art ophthalmic equipment, surgical products and supplies for Orbis’ Flying Eye Hospital. and partner hospitals around the world. Alcon’s expert biomedical engineers and trainers also participate in Orbis programs, sharing their skills and knowledge to help program participants learn to use and maintain essential medical technology.

“Alcon is proud of its more than 40-year partnership with Orbis, as we have worked together to improve volume and access to quality eye care that benefits underserved populations in communities around the world,” said David Endicott, CEO of Alcon. “We are excited to welcome participating learners to our Fort Worth Alcon Experience Center, where they will have hands-on experience with Alcon surgical equipment to build their skills and confidence in eye care techniques such as cataract Phaco, the medical retina and glaucoma procedures.”

Globally, Alcon operates 10 AECs as well as 26 training centers and 42 wet labs where training is focused on developing ophthalmologists and optometrists to master the latest techniques and technologies.

This year, Orbis also celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first flight of the Flying Eye Hospital. Since 1982, three generations of the Flying Eye Hospital have trained with eye care teams in more than 95 countries around the world. In 2020, Orbis redesigned Flying Eye Hospital in-person trainings as virtual trainings to ensure eye care teams can still access critical training safely during the pandemic. Orbis reached nine countries in 2020 and 34 countries in 2021 through Flying Eye Hospital virtual projects. With the aircraft now returning to in-person programming, the virtual model developed by Orbis is used in conjunction with in-person training, a concept known as “blended learning”, to ensure participants can maximize the time spent with their mentors, continuing their education after the plane leaves and more.

Worldwide, 1.1 billion people live with vision loss and 90% of cases are completely preventable.3 Nine out of ten people living with vision loss live in low- and middle-income countries,4 where quality eye care is often difficult, sometimes impossible, to access. An effective and sustainable solution to this challenge is to ensure that eyecare professionals in these countries can access quality eye care training, developing the skills they need to provide quality eye care to patients in their communities.

Over the past four decades, Orbis has performed tens of millions of eye screenings and performed eye surgeries and laser treatments for hundreds of thousands of patients. Orbis has also trained hundreds of thousands of eyecare professionals at all levels, including tens of thousands of physicians. Orbis-trained individuals then provide sight-saving care in their communities and, in many cases, train eye care professionals themselves.


1 Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago
2 https://www.iapb.org/learn/vision-atlas/causes-of-vision-loss
3 https://www.iapb.org/learn/vision-atlas
4 https://www.iapb.org/learn/vision-atlas/inequality-in-vision-loss