Tackling trachoma in the outback: Thelma's story

Meet Thelma, 23, a mother of two who is helping eliminate trachoma in the community of Ntaria (Hermannsburg) as a Foundation-supported Aboriginal Community Based Worker.
 
  • Community Based Workers play a critical role in reducing trachoma rates
  • They encourage participation in trachoma screening and treatment
  • They increase uptake of face washing amongst children

In 2012, The Foundation funded the employment and training of 14 Aboriginal Community Based Workers to support the Australian Government's Trachoma Elimination Program in nine remote communities across the Northern Territory.

Thelma now plays a critical role in educating her community about trachoma and encouraging good eye health habits.

Thelma connects people in the Ntaria community with eye nurses and other health workers who can provide trachoma treatment. She is able to educate people on eye health in a culturally appropriate way. Strategies include having eye health materials approved by community elders and translated into their Arrernte language to ensure local understandings of trachoma and how to prevent the disease.

The knowledge Thelma shares is leading to behavioural change in her community, which is the key to preventing trachoma reinfection in the future.

Reaching children is a priority. During a recent mass trachoma treatment and screening at the local school, Thelma worked with nurses to explain the purpose of trachoma antibiotics and teach positive eye health messages.

“I teach the kids to wash their hands and nose and keep their faces clean so they have good eyes and don’t go blind when they get older," says Thelma.

Data from the Centre for Disease Control shows that in 2010 prevalence of trachoma in five to nine year olds in Hermannsburg was 43 per cent. In 2012 this figure had dropped to five per cent. To minimise reinfection, Thelma now has a vital role to play.

“I like to help the kids and the young ones so when they grow up they can help their own children,” Thelma says.

Thelma feels positive about the future eye health of people in her community. One day she would like to train as a nurse so she can do even more to help children.

“I’m hoping my two girls do as I’m doing now when they grow up – finish school and work in the community,” she says.

Trachoma, the major blinding infectious eye disease around the world, is usually caused by poor hygiene conditions and is one of the most painful ways to go blind. Australia remains the only developed country where trachoma still exists. It often occurs in children and can develop into blindness in adulthood.

Based on recommendations from the World Health Organization, The Foundation is working with partners to implement the S.A.F.E strategy which includes surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness and environmental improvements.

> Find out more about our work in Indigenous Australia.
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