World’s leading flying eye hospital lands in Hong Kong after maiden sight-saving mission to mainland China

Third generation of Orbis Flying Eye Hospital visited the city after trip to Shenyang in northeastern China, a country where five million people are blind

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 10:44pm

The latest model of the world’s leading flying eye hospital touched down for the first time in Hong Kong last week, following its maiden sight-saving mission to Shenyang in northeastern China.

The third generation of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, which is predominantly staffed by volunteers and also serves as a teaching hospital, landed at Hong Kong International Airport on Saturday.

Hong Kong actress Sandra Ng, an ambassador for the hospital, was among the guests at the airport on Tuesday as the state-of-the-art MD-10 aircraft opened for media tours.

Dr Vincent Lee, former president of the Hong Kong Ophthalmological Society, recently completed his second voluntary trip on the plane, which took six years to build.

He said he wanted to pass on his expertise to local medical professionals in mainland China, where hospitals often have the relevant equipment, but whose doctors lack training in how to use it.

“I am lucky in that I had a good mentor, who taught me many things,” he said. “So I wanted to see what I can teach them. It is wonderful to work on this plane. The equipment is quite special. We see patients who are very grateful; they are getting the best treatment.”

China is home to about five million blind people, about 18 per cent of the world’s blind population, and doctors warn the number is increasing.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cataracts are responsible for 50 per cent of the country’s blind, equivalent to about 2.5 million people.

The WHO estimates that 80 per cent of all visual impairment in the world could be prevented or cured.

The Flying Eye Hospital, donated to international blindness-prevention NGO Orbis International by US-based courier company FedEx as part of an ongoing partnership, will remain in Hong Kong for further tours until October 2.

Captain Michael Flood, a 60-year-old FedEx pilot from Napa Valley in the US state of California, who flew the plane to China, said he had applied to volunteer for eight years before finally being invited to work on board.

“It is really rewarding,” he said. “We are really humbled to be here. We can continue to volunteer after we retire from our day jobs, so it gets us out of the house.”

Speaking to reporters, Paul Forrest, chief development officer for Orbis, thanked donors and sponsors for their support.

“Our launch of this Flying Eye Hospital not only marks a new chapter in our shared sight-saving journey, but also brings us a significant step closer to our dream of avoidable blindness forever.”