Sight Saviors

Hundreds of eyecare professionals, diplomats and business leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York to help ORBIS celebrate its 25th anniversary. Best known for operating the world’s only Flying Eye Hospital, ORBIS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving sight worldwide through national blindness prevention programs in Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India and Vietnam.

“For a quarter of a century, we have built a global network of committed people who share the goal of alleviating human suffering,” said Oliver Foot, ORBIS International president and executive director (middle photo). “Poverty is the biggest enemy of blindness.” Foot pointed to changes in climate, such as drought and floods, which create unsafe living conditions and increase the incidence of blindness.

Girma Wolde-Giorgis, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, was the evening’s keynote speaker. Addressing the UN gathering about the growing crisis of blindness, he said, “In my country alone, no less than 10 million people are afflicted by active Trachoma, a highly contagious disease that is spreading fast.” Pfizer Inc. has donated more than $17 million worth of the antibiotic Zithromax to ORBIS, which through a partnership with the International Trachoma Initiative is being distributed to help fight the disease.

The highlight of the evening came at 8:20 p.m. when the tower lights of the Empire State Building were turned off for 28 minutes, in recognition of the 28 million people around the world who are needlessly blind. ORBIS Global Ambassador of Sight, Sir Richard Branson (bottom photo), founder and chairman of the Virgin Group, led the official countdown to turn off the lights and delivered his remarks to the UN gathering blindfolded. “We all take for granted that we have the opportunity to see our loved ones, to move freely, to read a book, but imagine if that was taken away from us—how different our world would be.”

There were also many doctors in attendance who freely give their time to go on ORBIS missions and train doctors from overseas. Among them were Pat Carroll, OD, of Retina Physicians and Surgeries of Dayton, Ohio (pictured above with his wife Pam). Dr. Carroll recently returned from an ORBIS-sponsored volunteer mission in China.

— Mary Kane