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Scalpel, scissors, landing gear: Flying eye hospital helps blind to see

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Story highlights

The world's only Flying Eye Hospital is a jet converted into a fully equipped eye hospital

Eye specialists treat patients and train local doctors to ensure long-term benefit

It has flown to 78 countries and trained thousands of doctors

Flying hospital treats diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma

CNN —  

From the outside, the DC-10 jet parked on the airport runway looks like any ordinary plane. But if you step inside, you’ll notice something is not quite right. Instead of rows of seats, you’ll find a fully equipped operating theater; rather than uniform-clad flight attendants, you’ll see a group of doctors in blue coats gathered around a microscope.

This is the world’s only “Flying Eye Hospital” – a converted plane that has been landing at airports in the developing world for the last 30 years. Its mission is to treat people suffering from blinding diseases – many of whom are children.

But it’s not just about treatment; the plane is also designed to train local ophthalmologists. Cameras inside the operating room broadcast eye surgeries to a 48-seat classroom at the front of the plane, where local doctors watch to learn new skills and techniques. A two-way audio system lets the observers ask the surgeons questions while they operate.

Inspiring students

In October 2013, the Flying Eye Hospital landed in Cameroon, and its doctors visited the Yaounde Central Hospital in the country’s capital. It was a revealing experience for everybody present, said Dr. Emilienne Epee, senior lecturer of ophthalmology at the University of Yaounde. “Officials, lecturers and senior staff were exposed to what is available and what can be done in a realistic way, easing the advocacy for ophthalmologists,” she said.

Epee added that the visit got many medical students interested in ophthalmology, and she hopes that this will increase