This guest blog post was written by Assistant Professor Alexis G. Malkin, OD, FAAO. Dr. Malkin recently participated in the NECO-ORBIS Volunteer Program. Dr. Malkin traveled to Bangladesh with ORBIS to share her expertise in Low Vision.
How does one begin to describe the Orbis experience? Is it to first explain the concept of a plane that is a fully equipped operating room with a pre-op and post-op area, a classroom, a procedure room and high tech simulators? Or is it better to describe the focus on teaching and increasing knowledge across the world? Or maybe one begins by describing what the experience is for patients in a developing country when the Orbis plane lands at their airport. It is impossible to fully describe the Orbis experience, but I hope that in this guest blog and through my photos you will have some idea of what a week with Orbis is like.
As I boarded my flight from Boston, bound for Dubai, I wondered what the next week would bring. I had prepared 5 days worth of lectures and had filled my suitcase with equipment to help stock the clinic at the Chittagong Eye Infirmary and Training Center. I knew that I had a long journey ahead including 20+ flying hours and a lengthy stopover at the Dubai airport. I did not know that I would be landing in Chittagong about to experience one of the most rewarding experiences of my optometric career. It was to be a week filled with providing care to grateful patients, engaging in rich and vibrant academic discussions with colleagues from around the world and being immersed in a healthcare system so different from our own.
Chittagong, Bangladesh is the second largest city in Bangladesh and is the country’s major port on the Indian Ocean. The focus of our Orbis mission was on addressing causes of preventable blindness and also on strategies to care for those with visual impairment. In Bangladesh, there are more than 750,000 adults over the age of 30 and 48,000 children who are blind (Source: https://www.orbis.org/en/where-we-work/asia/bangladesh).
Optometry in Bangladesh is a new profession but they have quickly grown the program in Chittagong to include specialty contact lenses and low vision. Orbis designed a week long program for a group of 10 trainees to receive advanced low vision training. As a NECO faculty member, I felt confident in my knowledge of the material that I was set to teach, but I wondered how it would translate to a group of trainees of such varied clinical experiences and backgrounds. Our week consisted of lectures, workshops and assessment of patients in the clinic. My group of trainees arrived at 8 o’clock every morning and we began our lecture series. I was inspired by this group as we engaged in collegial discussions and explored new low vision technologies. Each afternoon we assessed low vision patients as a team and I provided guidance and recommendations.
My final day of the program was spent on the Flying Eye Hospital where my trainees were able to learn alongside their colleagues from the department of ophthalmology. The low vision lecture was broadcast live, worldwide via the CyberSight platform. In addition to the trainees attending in person, we had attendees from 16 different countries around the world (Armenia, Cameroon, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, India, Libya, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Oman, the UK, the US, Vietnam and Zimbabwe). This lecture was an incredible opportunity for me as a NECO faculty member and it further reinforced the incredible work that Orbis is engaged in worldwide.
My week with Orbis is one that I hope will be the first of many trips. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to provide this type of low vision education to such an enthusiastic group of trainees and I look forward to future trips to Bangladesh or to other countries of need.
More about the NECO-ORBIS Volunteer Program
The NECO-ORBIS Volunteer Program invites NECO alumni, teaching faculty, and clinical faculty to participate in a volunteer program to share their knowledge and skills with international practitioners in developing health systems by providing on-site and online optometric education. Faculty and alumni are invited to lead a week long hands-on training program in an international hospital settings, or provide online mentoring, telehealth consultations and education. Learn more about the NECO-Orbis partnership.