Fighting Blindness in Ethiopia

In 2018 we celebrated 20 years of fighting blindness in Ethiopia. The Addis Ababa office, registered in 1998, was our very first program office and currently manages our largest portfolio of comprehensive eye care programs; including training, governance and health system strengthening in urban hospitals to rural eye care clinics.

Celebrating 20 years of saving sight in Ethiopia

The Problem

When we started working in Ethiopia in 1998 the population was around 65 million. Two decades later it has nearly doubled to 107 million. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 1.8 million or 1.6% of the Ethiopian population is blind and 4.1 million or 3.7% live with low vision. This falls significantly above the world average of 1.2% and 3.4% respectively.

Success in Ethiopia

In 1998 the country had just 54 ophthalmologists, 42 of whom practiced in Addis Ababa (the capital city). There are now 140 ophthalmologists.

We have played a leading role in developing 266 primary eye care units, 10 secondary eye care units, 3 pediatric eye care centers and 6 optical workshops.

We've delivered more than 3 million eye screenings and examinations and nearly 25 million medical treatments including around 230,000 surgeries for adults and nearly 9,000 for children.

In 2020 alone, we delivered:

With your continued support, we can implement a model for comprehensive rural eye care that addresses critical gaps through capacity building, healthcare technology and advocacy. We will train more community health care workers in all aspects of eye care, from awareness of services, identification, diagnosis, referral and treatment.

We will look to face the enormous challenge of trachoma in Ethiopia by implementing the World Health Organization’s SAFE strategy (eyelid surgery, antibiotics, face cleanliness and environmental improvement). We will continue to help reduce the risk of trachoma by training nurses to perform trichiasis surgeries at primary healthcare units and building awareness by teaching community health workers, teachers, local women’s group leaders and community leaders about eye health.


None of this would be possible without the incredible support and collaboration from our partners, donors and supporters:

  • We are thankful to the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, for the honor of working with them to build a more resilient eye health service.
  • The Ophthalmological Society of Ethiopia who initially invited us into Ethiopia and have partnered with us ever since.
  • Through our trachoma elimination work we partner with: International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), Sightsavers, Vision Aid Oversees, Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), WaterAid Ethiopia, the Carter Centre, EFHF, World Vision Ethiopia, the BBC World Service Trust, CBM, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD, AMREF, World Vision, NALA foundation, Synergy Habesha, Mekaneyesus Church, Pfizer, and others to implement the SAFE strategy.
  • Academic partners such as the Department of Ophthalmology at Addis Ababa University, Gondar University , Hawassa University, Jimma University, Saint Paul Millennium College, Ethiopian Cataract Association, Ethiopian Optometry Association, Ophthalmological Society of Ethiopia, Ethiopian National Association for the Blind, UNC and the South Carolina University who are helping us develop curricula to train the eye health professionals of the future.
  • Additionally, the Ethiopian government’s regional health and education bureaus and the Ethiopian Science and Technology Agency.
  • We are grateful to our international funders at USAID, DFID/UKAID, Irish Aid, Orbis Ireland, Orbis UK, Orbis Hong Kong, AIG, Clothworkers Nood Dubai, Izumi Foundation, Alcon, L’Occitane, FedEx, as well as the thousands of individual donors that make our work possible.
  • Local sponsors: Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopian Airport Enterprise, Civil aviation, FMHACA, PFSA, ChSA
  • Over 100 volunteer doctors, nurses and biomedical engineers that have given their time and expertise to train and mentor the Ethiopian eye health community.

What We're Doing Next

We have enjoyed great successes in Ethiopia over the past 20 years but there is still a huge amount of work to be done to further improve the quality of eye care:

We must do more if we are to help Ethiopia reach its target of eradicating blinding trachoma by 2020. While we are succeeding in reducing the spread of infection in our current regions, we need to take on more districts to expand our trachoma elimination and SAFE strategy roll out. That means we need to secure more funding to expand and cover the whole more of the country.

Ethiopia is in desperate need of more qualified ophthalmologists. 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 specialist as we invest in training programs. The doctors we have trained over the past 20 years are now the teachers and we need to create more homegrown opportunities to train the next generation of eye health professionals.


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