Saving sight through good hygiene in India

I have just returned from my 32nd project as a medical volunteer for Orbis. This wasn’t a Flying Eye Hospital visit (the plane was in Cameroon) but rather a special project in Kolkata, India, where I was helping train local medical teams in the best and most up-to-date techniques for sterilising surgical tools and preventing infection.

As an Orbis team member, wherever I go I’m all about raising standards of care – making sure patients have the best possible chance of recovering some or all of their sight. So I was really keen to spend some time at our partner hospitals in Kolkata, specialist institutions that screen and treat a wide variety of eye conditions. This was a great opportunity to have a wide-reaching impact in a country that is home to around 20 per cent of the world’s blind people.

Ann Marie meets HRH The Countess of Wessex at the launch of our Flying Eye Hospital

The medical staff in Kolkata are doing the very best they can with the limited resources they have, so my aim was to bring them up to date on the latest best practice.

Everything I do is evidence based. For instance, we know that the best way to reduce infection is through hand-washing. So we started there. Then we covered cleaning, sterilising and drying instruments. The hospital staff in Kolkata don’t have single-use, disposable instruments like we do in the UK, so safe reuse is essential.

I am always really inspired and energised by my work as an Orbis volunteer. It’s fantastic to see dedicated medical professionals buoyed up by new knowledge, and to know that their patients are going to receive even better care from now on.

I think about patients like Ismail, a child in India who had a condition called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) -- damage to his eyes due to being born prematurely. The Orbis surgical team were able to remove the damaged tissue and significantly improve Ismail’s vision. 


His prospects are much better now – he wants to be a mechanic when he grows up and likes to ride his bike really fast through the streets of his home town, Pune, all thanks to our kind supporters. 

There are so many more children like Ismail all over the world, living with preventable blindness – children who, without the help of our donors, might not be able to ride their bike or dream about their future career.

I’m already looking forward to my next opportunity to volunteer with Orbis. I have no idea where they’ll need me next, but one thing is certain: it’ll be the kind donations of Orbis supporters that get me there. Watch this space for more updates!

Give the gift of sight this Christmas

Donate today