Bekelech, a Health Extension Worker in Ethiopia, helps treat 7.5 million people in just a few weeks to prevent trachoma's spread.

End Trachoma Now- 5 QUESTIONS WITH AN ORBIS-TRAINED HEALTHCARE WORKER

Bekelech is a Health Extension Worker in southern Ethiopia. In December, she was part of the Orbis team that treated 7.5 million people to prevent the spread of trachoma. Read on to learn about Bekelech's sight-saving work... and her heartfelt message to Orbis supporters.

MEET BEKELECH, A HEALTH WORKER ON THE ORBIS ETHIOPIA TEAM

For the past 12 years, Bekelech has devoted her life to fighting trachoma. Keeping the people of southern Ethiopia safe and healthy brings her so much satisfaction.

We took a moment with Bekelech during the Mass Drug Administration (MDA) and Eye Screening program in December. Bekelech reflected on her Orbis training and her dedication to prevent trachoma. She also shares the challenges of delivering treatment during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Bekelech sanitizes her hands before delivering doses of Zithromax — the medicine that helps treat and prevent trachoma's spread. Pfizer kindly donates all the Zithromax that the Orbis team needs to end this disease.

5 QUESTIONS WITH BEKELECH

1) WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN ETHIOPIA AS A HEALTH EXTENSION WORKER?

"Many people in the communities I serve do not have access to information about the importance of good hygiene.

For example, many homemakers spend their time cooking in a smoky setting. And since they don't wash their face or eyes after finishing their task, it can lead to infection... and eventually to trachoma.

Part of my job is to go to every home in the community to identify signs of trachoma. But I often need to convince people to get medical help. After giving them the information, they understand.

I teach them that trachoma causes irreversible blindness if they do not seek treatment. I also remind families of the realities of being blind — that it can shackle them at home and make them dependent on others."

Bekelech teaches people the causes of trachoma and its methods of prevention, like hand and face washing.

2) HOW HAS YOUR ORBIS TRAINING HELPED YOUR WORK TO PROTECT PEOPLE IN YOUR COMMUNITY?

"My training from Orbis focused on trachoma trichiasis, the causes and treatment of trachoma, and how to prevent the infection.

Thanks to my Orbis education, I'm able to identify trachoma patients. If someone's eyes are irritated or their eye discharge contains mucus, I will refer them to a hospital or health center for further medical care.

Since trachoma is a disease that can spread through direct contact, I persuade family members to go to the hospital and get medical attention too."

I feel good about my job. Since my line of work focuses on preventing trachoma, it brings me joy to see someone keep good hygiene procedures based on my training.

Bekelech

Orbis-trained Health Extension Worker

3) HOW HAS THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AFFECTED THE DELIVERY OF THE ANTIBIOTIC TREATMENT TO PEOPLE?

I have participated in Orbis'sZithromax distribution since the beginning of the program years ago.

Before the pandemic, we would distribute the medicine at one location in a community. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, though, we had to avoid public gatherings. So during the mass drug administration in December, we needed to travel home to home. This took twice as long and was very tiring.

We also wore masks and used sanitizers to protect ourselves and the community.

A child in Ethiopia receives medicine to protect against blinding trachoma during the MDA in December 2020.

4) WHAT IMPACT HAS THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAD ON THE PEOPLE IN SOUTHERN ETHIOPIA?

Most people in the community depend on daily labor pay. The Coronavirus caused widespread panic because they could not work.

It has also caused psychological harm. Even though it is getting better now, it has profoundly impacted the community’s livelihood.

Also, many people were initially against our home-to-home medicine distribution. More and more, though, people are aware of contagious diseases and are eager to receive treatment.

Healthcare workers had enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to help keep everyone safe — thanks to Orbis supporters.

5) IS THERE A MESSAGE YOU WOULD LIKE US TO GIVE TO ORBIS SUPPORTERS?

"Yes. Please tell Orbis supporters that their aid to our communities is excellent. And we appreciate Orbis's training for health professionals at hospitals and health centers."

But please, this work must continue. Trachoma is still prevalent in our region and needs attention. We promise that we will work hard on our side to fight avoidable blindness too."

HELP BEKELECH END TRACHOMA NOW.

We need your help to treat and protect the people of Ethiopia.