When The Fred Hollows Foundation started working in the Oromia region of Ethiopia in 2013 there were more than 180,000 people in urgent need of surgery for the blinding eye disease trachoma.

Since then The Foundation has supported more than 103,000 surgeries, in partnership with the Oromia Regional Health Bureau and the Federal Ministry of Health.

As we reduce the numbers of people in need of surgery, finding the cases becomes more complex in the vast region that is home to 38 million people.

So The Foundation and its partners have turned to some innovative and interesting methods to reach affected communities.

As well as engaging community leaders to advise their communities about visiting surgical teams and the services provided, they’ve also enlisted the help of town criers to go through villages and to market days to spread the word.

The Foundation has also worked with people who have already had surgery to talk to their neighbours about the services and to show them that surgery is successful and can eliminate the terrible pain of the disease.

In some of the hardest to reach areas, the teams have had to the think outside the box. So existing community health promoters, like those conducting malaria drug spraying, have been used to extend the reach of case identification.

Taking a house-to-house approach is one of the best ways to ensure the hardest to reach people, and those most in need, understand the condition and seek treatment.

This has only been possible by training case finders to identify and register cases and through strong advocacy meetings with district-level partners, political leaders, health workers and staff.

The Foundation’s team in Ethiopia is sharing these learnings at a global Neglected Tropical Disease conference in Addis Ababa to help others fighting trachoma and diseases including leprosy, dengue fever and onchocerciasis.

Neglected tropical diseases are a diverse group of communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries affecting more than one billion people and cost developing economies billions of dollars every year.