Two girls at a water point in Ethiopia

Tackling Trachoma in Ethiopia: a World Water Week Update

44% of the world’s trachoma is found in Ethiopia and Africa is the most affected continent. Trachoma is a water-borne bacterial eye infection that thrives in places with poor sanitation and limited access to clean water for personal hygiene.

This year, Orbis is celebrating 20 years of eye health development in Ethiopia in Africa, 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.

Africa remains the most affected continent, with trachoma being a known public health problem in 26 countries of the World Health Organisation's Africa Region.

At the Orbis-supported Zadah Health Centre, patients can access treatment for trachomatous trichiasis

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, through flies, direct physical contact or items and surfaces.

Ethiopia, like many countries in Africa, do not have sufficient access to clean water. This is one of the reason why trachoma, one of the oldest infectious diseases known to mankind, is so prevalent in Africa.

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 programmes, 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. Orbis educates communities and shares messages about eye health and hygiene through school eye care clubs and women’s groups. Because trachoma is not just about eye health, it is also about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Ethiopia, many more African countries and beyond. Access to clean water, proper sanitation and good hygiene practices are key to preventing trachoma from spreading.

A woman in Ethiopia receives eye drops for trachoma administered by an Orbis-trained eye care worker

As part of the work we do in Ethiopia, we manage rural outreach programmes, enabling patients to access eye care close to home

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 20 years, 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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