Orbis Advocates for Eye Health in Rural Ethiopia
November 4, 2014
Orbis recognized World Sight Day (WSD) this year by joining government officials and partners for an event in Ethiopia’s rural areas where the prevalence of the highly contagious—but completely preventable—trachoma disease is highest.
Trachoma is an infectious disease that causes the inner surface of the eyelids to roughen, causing the eyelashes to turn inward and scratch the cornea, causing a breakdown of the cornea and/or blindness. It can be spread by both direct contact with an affected person's eyes or nose, or indirectly through clothing or flies that have come into contact with an affected person's eyes or nose.
Guided by this year’s WSD theme of “No More Avoidable Blindness,” which was established by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), an umbrella association that works with several NGOs on blindness prevention initiatives, Orbis created a WSD theme that would be most relevant to communities in Ethiopia: “No More Blindness from Trachoma.”
In light of this, Orbis and partners traveled to the Amhara region in northern Ethiopia, where communities highly affected by trachoma reside, on Monday, October 20 to join government officials from the Federal Ministry of Health and other various eye health-focused non-governmental organizations for a jointly planned WSD ceremony. The day’s events included keynote remarks from government officials, commentary from community leaders, and music and entertainment from local youth and cultural groups.
Orbis’s goal is to work with partners to create a more powerful voice for eye care advocacy and place eye care higher on the public health agenda in Ethiopia. Orbis has a longstanding partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health in Ethiopia, through which we work to develop and strengthen the capacity of existing government health providers to deliver eye care services, ranging from initial screenings to follow-ups with specialized eye care professionals. Government officials have been working closely with Orbis and other NGOS to form a new national communication committee at the ministry level to continue these advocacy efforts, and this ceremony provided the opportunity for all partners to come together and show mutual support for the cause.
The ceremony also kicked off a Zithromax distribution campaign in Waghimra, a zone within in the Amhara region. Zithromax is an antibiotic distributed annually as a single oral dose to prevent trachoma in communities where the infectious disease is prevalent. The distribution is part of Orbis and partners’ work in implementing the World Health Organization (WHO) SAFE strategy to fight trachoma, which stands for eyelid Surgery, Antibiotics, Face cleanliness and Environmental improvement.
A media visit was planned so that Ethiopian journalists could witness the work done to prevent and treat trachoma in the region firsthand and help spread the word. Thirteen journalists from various national TV and radio stations and news outlets participated in the activities. A “question-and-answer” session was also prepared for national broadcast television, which Orbis hopes will continue to engage supporters for the elimination of trachoma in Ethiopia. Orbis hopes to use this visibility to inform local community leaders, health workers, teachers, and women’s group leaders about eye health and thus, reduce the risk of trachoma in the region.
Thanks to the added support from partnering organizations and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, this ceremony and its impact is one of many successful steps forward in Orbis’s efforts to create a comprehensive model for rural eye care advocacy. To learn more about Orbis’s work in Ethiopia, click here.