Over the next two weeks, ophthalmologists, nurses, optometrists, anesthesiologists, biomedical engineers and others involved in the field of eye care from seven Caribbean countries will get an opportunity to enhance their skills in a unique health care facility.
Eye specialists from Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti and St. Lucia will be attending a conference on board the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, a converted MD-10 aircraft that travels all around the world offering specialised training for the treatment of glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cataract, paediatric strabismus, and other eye conditions.
Orbis has been in operation since 1982, and has done some 24 missions in the Caribbean, concentrating mostly on Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and the Dominican Republic, but this is its first visit to Barbados. At the official launch of the conference at the Grantley Adams International Airport, President of the Ophthalmologists Society of the West Indies (OSWI), Dr Nigel Barker explained how the Barbados visit came about.
“The project started two years ago when an Orbis rep contacted me via email in my capacity as President of OSWI, saying they wanted to do more work in the Caribbean. I immediately thought of Jamaica, but given that they had been there several times before, we thought of our situation in this part of the region, and asked them whether they would consider coming to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.”
Dr Barker mentioned that last year’s hurricanes prevented the Eastern Caribbean countries that bore the brunt of the destruction from getting more involved in the current training exercise, but he expressed the hope that Orbis could conduct another mission catering to those countries once they recovered.
Head of the Lions Eye Care Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Sherwyn Benskin said, “When we examine the educational content of this mission, we can see it has been tailored to the needs of our department. I have a vision of a modern facility, staffed by health care professionals with the right qualification set, that rivals the top organizations in the world. It is quite a vision, but I think it is achievable given our base.”
Dr Benskin then outlined some of the developments coming to the department, which were later echoed by Chief Executive Officer of the QEH Dr Dexter James. “We now have three modern ophthalmic theatres on the third floor of the centre, and we also want to put an eye ward there.” Dr James added, “We have also embarked on a telemedicine initiative in association with Cisco and Digicel, which will expose our specialists to more training opportunities.”
Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George who spoke on behalf of Minister of Health John Boyce underscored the importance of the training the Orbis conference will offer, given the high incidence of diabetes and glaucoma in Barbados and in people of African descent.
“In 2017, the International Diabetes Foundation’s Diabetes Atlas reported that in Barbados, the prevalence of diabetes in people between the ages of 20 and 79 was 17.6 per cent, or that 36 out of every 1,000 people living here have diabetes. In terms of glaucoma, that condition affects one in eleven Afro-Caribbean people over the age of 50, and almost one in six over 70 years of age. As a result of this conference, we will be able to build greater capacity within our polyclinic system, in addition to the QEH, to enhance our ability to deal with these lifestyle-related eye diseases.”
In her address, Director of Program Development and Quality Members with Orbis International Amelia Geary stated that “For the first week of the conference, we will do simulation exercises, but in the second week, we will perform operations on patients who have been selected based on the nature of their conditions. Orbis’ overall mission is to ensure eye care services are available, accessible and actually used by the public, and we do this by working in partnership with hospitals and professional associations in this field.”
The aircraft features a classroom facility along with an operating theatre, a simulation room and a three-bed “ward”, and has a full complement of medical professionals who hail from 16 countries.