Surgeons target trachoma in Ethiopia

A mobile surgical squad has hit the road in the Oromia region of Ethiopia going village to village to tackle the scourge of trachoma.

In an approach that echoes Professor Fred Hollows’ campaign in Indigenous communities in the 1970s, the team is taking treatment directly to those suffering from this eye disease.

“The pain and the devastation of trachoma can be stopped by 10 minutes of surgery,” says senior ophthalmologist and The Foundation’s Ethiopian technical advisor, Dr Wondu Alemayehu.

The dedicated squad is the latest in a series of initiatives on trachoma that The Fred Hollows
Foundation has been involved in since opening an office in Addis Ababa less than a year ago. As well as supporting the training of trichiasis surgeons who live and work in Oromia, The Foundation has built strong partnerships with national, regional and local government authorities and fellow NGOs.

Other key steps include providing financial and technical support to map the prevalence of the disease and assisting in the development of the country’s Trachoma Action Plan.

The figures are staggering. Oromia is home to 33 million people, over two thirds of whom are exposed to trachoma – a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the eye and eyelid tissue. If left untreated, the eyelashes can turn inward scraping the cornea.   

Within this region alone 200,000 people are at risk of going blind unless they have surgery. Women are more than twice as likely as men to develop the disease as a result of caring for children who have active trachoma. 

“We know it’s an enormous problem so we are starting with a zone, or 12 districts,“ says Dr Wondu.  “We have 200 districts to go. But the results keep us going.”

Trachoma, in common with other Neglected Tropical Diseases, prevails in hot dusty areas where people lack access to sanitation.

While surgery for those threatened with blindness is the first priority, controlling the spread of the disease through drugs and providing ongoing education and better hygiene is also vital.

The Foundation is currently enabling the distribution of antibiotics to 1.3 million people in Oromia and working with partners to provide toilets and convenient access to water.

Find out more about The Foundation's work in Ethiopia.
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