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Orbis saved my sight - twice

November 2018

To celebrate two decades of sight-saving work in Ethiopia we’re sharing stories of the lives being transformed thanks to the Orbis family. One woman, who is no stranger to our sight-saving work is Obito. Eight years ago, she underwent surgery to treat trachoma trichiasis (TT) - a painful blinding disease. Unfortunately, she has caught it again.

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However, this time, the mother and housewife is well aware of the incredible impact treatment can have and how it will improve her quality of life.

Obito is unlike any other patient we meet in Gamo Gofa. We meet her at a health centre, where she's about to go in for surgery. She doesn’t seem nervous at all. In fact, she is grinning from ear to ear.

For the second time, Obito has trachoma in her right eye. If a person suffers from repeated infections, the inside of their eyelid will become scarred and their eyelashes will turn inward, eventually blinding them. It is incredibly painful. Obito is in this late stage of trachoma and is about to undergo surgery to bring the eyelashes out, relieving her pain, stopping the tearing and helping her see more clearly.

As she's been through this before, she understands full well the difference that seeking treatment can make to someone’s life. She tells us that her photophobia – a side effect of trachoma – is so bad that she has to cover her eyes and look down at the ground when she is outside. She cannot go to market, or weddings, or any social events.

Blinding trachoma is bacterial eye infection and one of the leading causes of preventable blindness worldwide. If left untreated, trachoma develops into trachomatous triachiasis, which turns the eyelids inwards, meaning eyelashes scrape the eyeball, causing permanent scarring to the cornea.

It’s very challenging to work. I care for my children, I prepare food for my children and for my husband, I wash my children’s clothes and my husband’s. This is affecting my daily activities..

Obito

Trachoma trichiasis patient

Tsehay, an Orbis-trained Integrated Eye Care Worker, will be performing Obito’s surgery; in fact, it was Tsehay that encouraged Obito to come back for a second surgery, when she visited her community to talk about the importance of eye health, and treating trachoma.

Tsehay leads Obito into a small, simple room set up for surgery. It takes approximately twenty minutes, and when we speak to Obito afterwards, the only thing that has changed is the eye patch she is now sporting across her right eye. The smile is still there. Having suffered with trachoma on and off for around ten years, she must be relieved.

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The life-changing surgery only takes 20 minutes

We are invited to Obito’s house a few days later, to meet her family and check on her progress. Her home is near the centre of the village, and there is a small garden full of bamboo, with a vegetable patch set to the side.

Tsehay comes with us, and checks Obito’s eyes. Despite some sensitivity to light still, she is doing well, and her eye is healing nicely. Obito has already noticed a difference already, telling us: “Now after the surgery I am OK again! I can do my routine activities.”

When we visit, Obito's husband Salfago and two of their children are there also – their eldest son Habte, a shy but smiley ten year old boy, and their youngest, little Elsa who is two, and predictably steals the show, smiling at everyone.

Salfago explains that even when he first met Obito, she was suffering from trachoma: “My wife’s infection started when she was really young; before we got together, when she was 17 or 18. It was really bad for her. When we got together, it was coming and going. When we thought she was feeling better it would come again aggressively. Eye care professionals from around the world came to our district, and she got her surgery. It was Orbis. She had a very bad infection that time, her eyes were all itchy and very badly infected, so that had to take out – the surgery was covering the entire eye, for both eyes."

"The surgery was good and she didn’t have any complaints. It was good and we had a huge break – but recently it started coming again. Tsehay and other TT surgeons always teach our community, and she came to tell us that she needs to have surgery right away."

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Obito picks beans and barley in her garden

It’s really easy to manage, and the pain is lesser now, than from her first surgery. She’s doing good, and we’re really happy about it.

Salfago

Obito's husband

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Now that Obito has been treated, she can look forward to caring for her family again

Since Obito has been unwell, however, he has been helping his wife: “I’ve been taking care of my wife since she got the surgery. As long as we do things in a team, nothing is impossible.” Obito shows us the beans and barley that grow in their garden, picking some as she goes.

Meanwhile, Habte explains that his favourite class is language. Obito and Salfago proudly tell us he is seventh in his class, and that Elsa will be starting school next year. It is clear how much Obito’s family means to her, and how important it is for her to be able to look after them – something that, now that she has undergone treatment, which be much easier for her.

Soon it is time to leave, but before we do, Salfago makes sure to let us know one last thing: “We love Orbis and how they are coming to our community to make sure that we have the treatment we deserve. We know you are coming here for a good cause, and we appreciate that. I’m really happy that you’re here today to document that.” Obito nods and smiles. “Thank you very much".

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Obito with Integrated Eye Care Worker Tsehay

We love Orbis and how they are coming to our community to ensure that we have the treatment we deserve.

Salfago

Obito's husband

Obito is fortunate. Thanks to the generous help of our supporters, we are able to ensure that people experiencing painful vision like Obito can be treated more than once in their lifetime.

In the 20 years we’ve been in Ethiopia, we've delivered more than 2.25 million eye screenings and examinations and nearly 25 million medical treatments including around 170,000 surgeries for adults and 6000 for children.

But with the population of Ethiopia having doubled since 1998 from 68 to 105million, the country is still facing a shortage of qualified opthamologists.

Currently there are only five academic institutions offering 25 residents in ophthalmology training each year - this is simply not enough to fight blindness in the country.

We need further support to train the next generation of eye health specialists as we invest in training programs so that more people like Obito can get the treatment they need.

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