Ethiopian patient Aylito, who has cataract, looks into the camera

Tackling trachoma in Ethiopia: a World Water Week update

​This year, Orbis is celebrating 20 years of eye health development in Ethiopia, ensuring that people are able to access the eye care they deserve.

One of the biggest challenges Orbis faces is in tackling trachoma, a 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.

44% of the world’s trachoma is found in Ethiopia. Almost 70 million people in Ethiopia live in areas needing mass drug administration and other interventions to address trachoma infections. Nearly 75% of surgeries for trachomatous trichiasis (a 20 minute routine operation) are carried out there.

During World Water Week, we’re focusing on this painful disease, which thrives in places with poor sanitation and limited access to clean water for personal hygiene. Trachoma is caused by bacteria spread through contact with eye discharge from an infected person.

Orbis follows the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s ‘SAFE’ strategy (Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvement) for trachoma elimination, focusing on ‘S’ and ‘A’. Our overall work in Ethiopia is Orbis’s largest portfolio of comprehensive eye care programs, including training, governance and health system strengthening, ranging from urban hospitals to rural eye care clinics.

In the 20 years that we have been working in Ethiopia, Orbis and our partners have distributed 44.5 million doses of antibiotics to prevent and treat trachoma, and Orbis-supported facilities have carried out nearly 140,500 trachoma surgeries.

But we don’t simply provide treatments and surgeries – we make sure that we’re fighting trachoma at every level. Education is key, and Orbis shares messages about eye health and hygiene in the community through school eye care clubs and women’s groups.

Orbis UK Chief Executive, Rebecca Cronin, says: ‘We’re continuing to focus our efforts in Ethiopia, including starting work in 15 new districts in 2018. In just a few months we hope to have good news on elimination targets in 39 districts.

‘While we’re making real progress, now is the time for trachoma partners to come together with the government of Ethiopia to make sure the resources are available to eliminate blinding trachoma as soon as possible.'

Over the past two decades, Orbis’s work has expanded due to the generous support of donors and partners, including the Department for International Development, the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health and the Ophthalmological Society of Ethiopia, as well as many international and local partners.

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