Orbis: A Force Multiplier in Global Ophthalmology
Hunter Cherwek, Vice President Clinical Services at Orbis International, with prime responsibility for the Flying Eye Hospital, the Cybersight telemedicine initiative and hospital-based training programs, speaks to The Ophthalmologist in support of the “See My Future” appeal, which is helping to transform lives around the world. Until June 23, 2019, all public donations to the appeal will be doubled by the UK government
I knew I would get involved in global medicine at a very early stage in my career – in fact, it was clear to me from the moment I entered medical school. And, as my training continued, I found that I enjoyed surgery, and was struck by the transformative power of ocular interventions. There aren’t many disciplines where a 15-minute procedure that can be done anywhere, with no need for intensive care units or blood transfusions, can radically change someone’s life for the better. For these reasons, I was immediately drawn to Orbis as a medical student, and in 2005 – the day I finished my ophthalmology residency at Emory University – I flew to the westernmost part of China to join the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital. Orbis was my life from then until 2011, at which point I joined industry to improve access to quality cataract care in Asia and Russia. But I couldn’t stay away, and now I’m back with Orbis as Vice President Clinical Services and oversee our global clinical activity.
Save a child’s sight – change a child’s future
One area that I am especially proud to focus on in my work is helping children maximize their visual potential, which is a key programmatic focus area for Orbis. When you consider that 80 percent of a child’s learning is vision-based, and that eye care is about the most cost-effective medical intervention there is, it makes absolute sense to channel resources into fixing pediatric vision problems. By doing so, we change the life chances of children who might have dropped out of school or not even been accepted at school, and allow them to pursue a more complete life and engage in more meaningful work than would otherwise have been possible. Our success in this regard has exceeded my expectations – we are now assessing millions of children per year, and I never expected to be able to say that! How did we achieve this? Essentially, we started small and made sure we had a model that worked; thereafter, scaling-up was relatively fast and easy. It also helps that we have close, long-term relationships, and significant numbers of boots on the ground in the countries we are assisting; this really helps us to introduce the model efficiently. And now we want to build on this success; that’s why we are looking for more support, not only to continue the work we’re doing in India and Nepal, but also to expand this transformational approach into our other country programs; for example, in Vietnam. In this context, the Orbis “See My Future” appeal has the potential to help so many. Until June 23, the UK government is matching public donations, meaning a donation to Orbis can currently have twice the impact and it will both permit expansion and support innovation.
The introduction of new eye care approaches is a very important feature of Orbis. We are at the confluence of technology and training, and constantly looking at ways to introduce novel force multipliers, such as hand-held devices that enable teachers to assess school children for refractive error. Another highly successful force multiplier is our telemedicine initiative: Cybersight – an online portal with a pediatric focus that we started over 15 years ago. It helps us train, mentor, and inspire ophthalmic communities; for example, by streaming live surgeries. And now Cybersight enables people in remote communities to be seen by a specialist in real time. To date, we have provided more than 19,000 free consultations to patients – the vast majority of whom are children. We’ve even done global broadcasts from the Flying Eye Hospital, expanding our reach exponentially – the aeroplane classroom only has 46 seats, but we can have 46 countries connected, watching live demonstrations. It is a great example of how Orbis uses technology and combines it with core programs as a force multiplier, so that we get deeper reach and greater impact. And that’s why we’re continually looking for new opportunities, Recently, I met with our Country Director for India, Rahul Ali, and within an hour we identified two technologies that could help programs in India via Cybersight. That’s the importance of the “See My Future” appeal. It will not only grow our footprint regarding the numbers of children we can reach, but will also help us leverage exciting technologies so that we can more efficiently reach communities that need help.
Support sight-saving work – where it is most needed
The rapid pace of transformation in global eye care is incredibly exciting. I never imagined that I would have access to technology – like James Bond – that would allow me to freely communicate with patients and doctors in remote locations. To be able to help children in Syria or Nepal or India, in real time, at no cost to them, is just wonderful. It’s very easy to get pessimistic or anxious when you read the news, but we must remember there is another side to each story – Orbis is harnessing the power of technology to bring much needed care to those who need it most. In fact, I don’t think there has ever been a better time to be at the forefront of medical interventions! But to keep moving forward, we rely on donations. And that’s where you come in. A gift of any size goes a long way. It can help not just a child, but an entire classroom, for life. With your help, it will be possible to ensure that every child in the world has an eye test. Please, take a little time out of your day and support the “See My Future” appeal. Remember, give before June 23, and your donation will be matched by the UK government, meaning that your gift is effectively doubled. Donate today, and double your impact!
How we use your donations
All donations to the “See My Future” appeal, matched by the UK government, go towards our childhood blindness project in Nepal; your donations support our sight-saving work wherever it is most needed.
- £3.50 doubled to £7 trains four Vision Ambassadors – pupils who assist with screenings and share eye health messages with peers
- £5.50 doubled to £11 provides two new pairs of glasses
- £53 doubled to £106 enables eye screening for 250 children
- £93 doubled to £186 purchases portable equipment to record screening results
- £2,155 doubled to £4,310 purchases a full eye screening kit (including hand-held slit lamp, ophthalmoscope, trial lens set)
Discover more here: www.orbis.org.uk/en/see-my-future