We Need Your Help to End Trachoma Now

We’re responding to a crisis in southern Ethiopia. Millions of people are suffering from a highly contagious and potentially blinding infectious eye disease called trachoma – and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation even worse. Find out what's going on right now in Ethiopia and how you can help save millions of people from going blind.

Treating Millions of People in Southern Ethiopia

Orbis has been fighting trachoma in Ethiopia for over 20 years and we’ve virtually eradicated the disease in 24 districts of the country. But the global pandemic temporarily halted our work and threatened to undo two decades of progress.

In December 2020, with special support and approval from the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, we launched a large-scale, door-to-door mass drug administration (MDA) program to restart the fight against trachoma in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region (SNNPR).

With the support of our amazing donors, we've already administered more than 7.5 million doses of trachoma-fighting antibiotics across 89 districts in just one month, despite significant challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re making great progress, but there's still so much work to do.

The antibiotic we’re using is Zithromax, a well-known and safe medicine generously donated by pharmaceutical company and Orbis’s Global Partner, Pfizer.

But while the antibiotics may be donated, delivering the treatment to people's homes and keeping everyone safe from the spread of COVID takes twice as long and costs more — a lot more. And that’s why we need your support.

We CAN eliminate trachoma in our lifetime. It IS possible. We know how — and we are actively working at it — but we need your help to continue. Your donation will help keep this critical work going and allow us to target other regions in Ethiopia hardest hit by this devastating, but entirely preventable disease.

From the Field: the Latest News & Stories

Check out the latest one-the-ground news, stories and updates about our MDA program in southern Ethiopia, and Orbis's fight to eradicate trachoma. Follow our progress and see how your support is giving entire communities hope for a better and brighter future.

Trachoma: the Leading Infectious Cause of Blindness

Trachoma is a highly contagious eye disease and the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. It’s part of a group of conditions known as neglected tropical diseases that are entirely preventable and easy to treat — and it’s a disease that shouldn’t exist.

Watch: Learn more about trachoma and the SAFE strategy for tackling this preventable disease

Trachoma starts off as a bacterial infection, not unlike the common ‘pink eye’, that’s often picked up in childhood. It’s a disease of poverty and is common where living conditions are crowded, clean water is scarce, and sanitation is poor. Trachoma is quickly and easily spread through bodily fluids, unwashed hands, contaminated clothes and bedding, as well as by flies spreading the infection from person to person.

Women account for 70% of all people affected by trachoma. Traditional gender roles mean that women most often take care of young children and are much more likely to be re-infected with trachoma through exposure to infected children.

Because trachoma is so endemic in communities across much of Ethiopia, people often have a number of infections throughout their lifetime. Repeated infection leads to blisters and scarring on the underside of a person’s eyelid, which eventually causes the eyelashes to turn inwards and scrape on the eyeball. This condition, called trichiasis, results in excruciating pain and permanent damage the eye's surface, and eventually irreversible blindness.

The Challenges of Tackling Trachoma During Covid-19

Before COVID-19 changed our world, Orbis treated trachoma through traditional MDA programs delivered in community gathering places like schools, churches, village squares or markets. An MDA program treats and screens every person living in a defined area to control and eliminate the targeted disease. But now, lockdown orders and social distancing guidelines have prevented community gatherings and created major challenges.

A mass drug administration conducted in 2014

But we know we can’t let anything, not even a global pandemic, stop this important work. We know we MUST continue the fight against trachoma right now — or risk losing so much of the progress we’ve made.

We need your support right now to stop the spread of blinding trachoma in Ethiopia before it’s too late. The amount of PPE our outreach workers need to safely treat millions of people is overwhelming.

To continue our work amid the pandemic, we had to modify our MDA program. Instead of setting up in a central location in the community, our outreach teams are going door-to-door. We provided our teams with personal protective equipment (PPE) and trained them on how to deliver Zithromax in a COVID-safe manner.

Outreach workers use a ‘dosing pole’ to measure the height of the person they're treating and determine the exact amount of medication required. They’re also looking out for anyone showing signs of active trichiasis, and ensuring they are referred for surgery at a local eye care clinic, many of which have been established with support from Orbis. So far, we've performed 5,449 surgeries in cases where trachoma infections had progressed to trichiasis.

GALLERY: Happening right now - our teams are working hard to fight trachoma in a COVID-safe manner.

Because the spread of both COVID-19 and trachoma can be reduced through proper handwashing and good personal hygiene practices, outreach workers are also focusing on educating families about the importance of hand and facial cleanliness.

You Can Make a Difference in the Fight to End Trachoma

Just like COVID-19, trachoma is highly contagious and spreads quickly. And like COVID, trachoma must be stopped right now before it gets worse.

We’ve made so much progress towards eradicating this excruciatingly painful and blinding disease in Ethiopia. Over the past 22 years, Orbis has administered over 82 million doses of donated antibiotics, conducted more than 174,000 trichiasis surgeries, and established more than 320 primary eye care units.

But much of our hard work could be undone if we can’t continue to distribute Zithromax to those who need it most.

We have a plan, we have the medication, and we have a dedicated and selfless team of outreach workers and volunteers to distribute it. We’ve already treated more than 7.5 million people since December, but this is just the beginning.

I want to help fight trachoma in Ethiopia.

We need your support right now to keep this critical work going and help us expand to even more communities hard hit by this devastating, but entirely preventable disease. Delivering an MDA program amid a pandemic is not only challenging and takes twice as long, it’s also very costly — and that’s why we need your support.

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