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ORBIS and its Global Sponsors Join Forces to Bring a Five-Week Sight-Saving Program to Vietnam
Date:3/6/2008

With Alcon and FedEx, ORBIS targets the training of local eye health workers, while providing free, sight-saving surgeries and ophthalmic care

NEW YORK, March 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With an invitation from the Vietnamese government and the support of global sponsors Alcon (NYSE: ACL) and FedEx (NYSE: FDX), ORBIS International, a nonprofit global development organization dedicated to saving sight worldwide, will send its flagship Flying Eye Hospital, a state-of-the-art medical and teaching facility housed in a DC-10 aircraft, to Vietnam for an intensive surgical skills exchange and clinical training program for the nation's eye care professionals.

The five-week program will begin with Alcon's sponsorship in Da Nang (March 17 - April 4) and will conclude with FedEx's sponsorship in Ho Chi Minh City (April 9 - April 20). Nearly 200 ophthalmologists, 40 nurses and 20 biomedical engineers will receive training and hands-on instruction aboard the Flying Eye Hospital and within the Da Nang Eye Hospital and Ho Chi Minh City Eye Hospital. In addition, more than 120 Vietnamese patients will undergo surgery to have their sight restored or preserved.

"The support we receive from our global sponsors and donors enables the delivery of improved eye care services to numerous people, while bringing awareness of avoidable blindness to many more," said Paul Hamilton, ORBIS chief of programs. "This is the first time the Flying Eye Hospital will conduct a program in one country for such an extended period of time -- working with Alcon and FedEx together in adding this important and complementary program to our existing capacity-building work in Vietnam makes this another milestone in our organization's history."

Eliminating Avoidable Blindness Requires Comprehensive Long-term Solutions

Like many emerging nations, Vietnam has a high rate of avoidable blindness and is working hard to provide quality eye care service to its entire population. There are half a million blind people in Vietnam, with the majority living in rural areas. Practicing mostly in the major urban centers, there are an estimated 13.5 ophthalmologists per million Vietnamese, compared to 10 ophthalmologists per 100,000 in the United States. In the rural areas of Vietnam, health workers are usually nurses who have minimal orientation in eye care issues and scant resources.

In 2007, Vietnam emerged strongly and successfully into mainstream international life with a surge in economic growth and development that is reported to steadily reduce poverty levels. Recently, the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organization (VUFO) called for more assistance from non-governmental organizations -- whereby ORBIS was cited as one such organization -- to help strengthen the nation as a whole. While the government is taking the reigns of its future into its own hands, it is still relying on aid from overseas. Last year, the VUFO reported that Vietnam received US$251 million in aid from NGOs, an increase of US$35 million over the previous year.

ORBIS is developing long-term national plans in Vietnam to promote blindness prevention, expand availability of pediatric eye care facilities and enhance the country's eye banking capabilities. ORBIS has been especially successful in introducing treatment strategies and resources for retinopathy of prematurity, a leading cause of childhood blindness. Last year, as a result of 13 major ORBIS projects, 6,070 doctors, nurses and community eye health workers received training. More than 675,026 people were examined for eye disease, and medical treatment and/or surgery was provided to 133,095 patients.

ORBIS and Alcon -- Leading The Way To A World Without Blindness

For more than 25 years, Alcon has supported ORBIS' sight-saving programs and initiatives worldwide. In 2007, Alcon strengthened its commitment to ORBIS by renewing its global sponsor status for a further two-year period. This grant, exceeding US$2.7 million, provides cash and medical gifts-in-kind. It also increases Alcon's support of training initiatives in developing countries through a combination of Flying Eye Hospital programs, hospital-based programs, fellowships and online Cyber-Sight consultations. Under this grant, Alcon will sponsor two Flying Eye Hospital programs -- the first being in Da Nang, Vietnam, and the second to be selected in 2009.

Over the years, Alcon has donated state-of-the-art ophthalmic equipment, pharmaceuticals and supplies for the Flying Eye Hospital, making it possible for ORBIS volunteer ophthalmologists to teach advanced surgical techniques to doctors in the developing world. Additionally, they have contributed equipment and supplies to selected ORBIS partner hospitals around the world and have established the Alcon Volunteer Biomedical Corps, a dedicated group of Alcon biomedical technicians who participate in ORBIS training programs, sharing their skills with those in developing countries.

ORBIS and FedEx -- Delivering Sight Worldwide

As a global sponsor of ORBIS for more than 20 years, FedEx has committed its unparalleled networks, dedicated employees and vast aviation expertise to assist ORBIS in delivering the gift of sight to countless individuals throughout the developing world. In 2006, FedEx renewed its support to ORBIS with a US$5.5 million commitment, which includes financial, logistical and operational support for ORBIS and its Flying Eye Hospital through 2011. During this time, FedEx has agreed to support 10 Flying Eye Hospital programs and has created a new fellowship program -- the FedEx Fellows -- in which ORBIS will award medical training fellowships to ophthalmologists around the world over the next five years. Dr. Nguyen Thanh Chi of Da Nang Eye Hospital, Vietnam, currently serves as a FedEx Fellow.

Delivering unwavering support, FedEx completes the annual safety check for the Flying Eye Hospital at no cost to ORBIS. In addition, FedEx pilots volunteer their time to fly the Flying Eye Hospital to medical program locations worldwide. FedEx also gives complimentary access to its powerful network providing transportation services in support of ORBIS initiatives around the world.

About ORBIS

Since 1982, ORBIS programs have enhanced the skills of over 154,000 eye care professionals in 85 countries and have provided eye care treatment to more than 4.4 million people. To learn more about ORBIS, visit http://www.orbis.org.


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SOURCE ORBIS International
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