posted on 01/10/2012: 514 views
A gleaming white DC-10 sits on the tarmac at Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi. What sets it apart from any other aircraft is the fact that it is equipped with an operating theatre, a recovery room and all manner of surgical equipment.
This is the Flying Eye Hospital which has treated more than 15 million patients worldwide for a range of eye-related diseases.
Currently on its first trip to the UAE since 1982, the hospital is looking to build long-standing relationships with medical professionals.
"Our activities, which offer free surgeries and training programmes, also require corporate and individual funding. We hope to build a network here in the UAE to support these initiatives financially and medically,” Jack McHale, programme director for new aircraft sourcing, told Gulf News. "As a hospital, we travel to developing nations to train medical staff in surgical and treatment methods. For this, we recruit specialists from other countries, including a doctor from Dubai who works closely with us.”
Jackie Newton, a staff nurse at the hospital, added: "At present, we are looking for volunteers experienced in paediatric ophthalmology, as well as anaesthesiologists for the crew.”
The Flying Eye Hospital provides treatment and procedures to prevent avoidable blindness in developing countries. It has reached out to people in China, India, Ethiopia, Zambia and Bangladesh, among other countries. The hospital is operated by international non-profit organisation Orbis International, which is dedicated to providing eyecare in situations where people generally don't have access to alternative medical care.
"In numerous cases, blindness and visual impairment can be avoided, especially in cases when it is caused by lack of proper eyecare and nutrition in developing cases. In fact, 20 per cent of all our patients so far have been children who have received eyecare to restore their vision,” Dr Ahmad Juma, the hospital's medical director, told Gulf News.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 80 per cent of all cases of visual impairment around the world can be avoided or cured. Yet nearly 39 million people suffer from blindness, and about 246 million people have low vision.
To counter this, staff from Orbis first select an area or location that requires medical skills to prevent blindness among its population. Thereafter, they coordinate with local government and hospitals to establish the timeline and exact goals of the programme. Preparation then takes a year or more, before the flying hospital eventually arrives to conduct the programme.
McHale added that the surgeries to restore vision for many patients often costs less than US$10 (Dh36) to offer. "We provide them [treatment] free of cost, but most importantly, we try to train local medical staff so that they can deal with the eye-related medical problems most common in their communities,” he said.
The aircraft currently has 22 crew members on board, including five aviation technicians, anaesthesiologists and nurses.
McHale also explained that the training programmes offered by the hospital, and Orbis, cover a range of surgeries and diagnostic treatments, as well as biomedical engineering processes needed to maintain surgical equipment.
After its five-day stopover in Abu Dhabi, the flying hospital is bound for the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa for one of two planned training programmes. – Gulf News
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