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29 July 2012

OMEGA celebrates its partnership with ORBIS International’s Flying Eye Hospital

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In 2011, OMEGA produced a documentary film called Through Their Eyes in cooperation with ORBIS International, a non-profit organisation dedicated to delivering high-quality eye health care to some of the world’s remotest regions.

On Sunday afternoon, there was a showing of the film at the OMEGA House in Soho followed by a panel discussion with Dr. Robert Walters, President of ORBIS, OMEGA’s President Stephen Urquhart, and Paralympic superstar, Janice Burton MBE.

Through Their Eyes is narrated by Daniel Craig. The actor, best known for his portrayal of James Bond, travelled to Mongolia where he met ORBIS International’s team of medical professionals, technicians and pilots. There, he witnessed life-changing eye operations that restored vision to blind children.

After the film was screened in the Timeless Garen Lounge at the OMEGA House, moderator Zoey Bird asked Dr. Walters, an ophthalmologist, to describe his organisation and the work that it does. He pointed out that much of the world’s blindness is preventable or curable and said that ORBIS, by treating some 12 million patients and training more than a quarter of a million healthcare professionals around the world, has been able to draw attention to a message of hope: 80% of the world’s sightless people don’t need to be blind and individuals can make a difference.

OMEGA President Urquhart said that ORBIS International’s work is remarkable in part because the results of their medical treatment are immediate and dramatic. “What ORBIS does is so compelling that it’s surprising they would have to work on fundraising. Our experience is that everyone who sees this film wants to get involved in some way and we are proud of the role we played in getting it produced.” OMEGA has committed a minimum of a million US dollars to ORBIS.

Janice Burton MBE, who was also on the panel, has won more Paralympic medals than any other Briton. She had suffered from very poor eyesight from early childhood and was totally blind by the time she was 21. She won a total of 23 medals across four Paralympic Games.  Members of the audience were charmed when she described standing on the starting block ahead of a race and hearing a sound which she had thought was a false start signal. By the time she realized it had been a noise from a spectator, the other swimmers were in the water so she dived in and “swam as hard as I could, feeling like a complete fool”. At the end of the race, she got out of the pool and was told that she had won the race. She is an enthusiastic supporter of ORBIS and the work it does and said that her message to anyone who has lost their sigh is clear: “Never give up hope – you never know what might be waiting for you. Accept the challenge to do the best you can.”

The three panellists and moderator Zoey Bird closed the event by reminding members of the audience that 70% of ORBIS International’s budget comes from individual donations. “Small amounts make an enormous amount of difference,” said Dr. Walters, at which point, Janice Burton’s husband Kevin approached the panel and gave him a ten pound note. “Thank you,” said Dr. Walters. “With this we can buy enough antibiotic to ensure that five children will not lose their sight to trachoma, a bacterial infection that can lead to blindness. It’s just that simple.”

It was a meaningful way to end the discussion and a concrete example of how individuals can support ORBIS International’s global fight against eye disease and preventable blindness.

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