Orbis Irelands COVID-19 Response

December 2020

Four million people in Ethiopia are blind or visually impaired due to preventable or treatable causes, its health system has insufficient resources to address the need. In addition, Ethiopia has the highest global burden of trachoma, an eye infection that ultimately can lead to irreversible blindness, with 68 million people at risk.​​

The Impact of Covid-19

Our Current Work

After months of restrictions, Orbis partner hospitals and clinics are starting to resume more comprehensive eye health services. But they face challenges in adaptation so they can operate, both in health facilities and in community outreach programmes, in a Covid-secure manner. This entails both financial and logistical challenges, as they need to buy extra Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), sanitation consumables and equipment, as well as managing the flow of patients to ensure appropriate physical distancing.

Currently, Orbis is supporting eye health facilities to embed government Covid-19 guidance into health care, so trachoma trichiasis (TT) and cataract surgery and other services can be provided with reduced risk to staff and beneficiaries.

Distrubition of Anitbotics

Trachoma is a bacterial infection of the eye which can cause irreversible blindness. Unfortunately trachoma affects many people in impoverished regions of Ethiopia. However, there is an antibiotic, costing just 12 cent, that treats and prevents the disease.

Any delay in the annual cycle of antibiotic treatment would significantly delay the elimination of trachoma. However, antibiotic treatment cannot be carried out in mass community events as before (known as Mass Drug Administration or MDA), but well-protected health teams must move from household to household, until the whole population has been treated.

This requires more time and more staff than before. Furthermore, we need to supply all teams with PPE, sanitiser and infra-red thermometers so that anyone with a high temperature can be identified and treated accordingly.

Before the Covid-19 Pandemic, crowds gathered for Mass Drug Administration

Orbis workers now go house to house to administer the drug

With the necessary adaptations we will be able to carry out MDA, reaching 1.4 million people before the end of this calendar year, along with conducting routine treatments, surgeries and the training that is needed to sustain and strengthen eye care services.

To continue our fight to eliminate blinding trachoma, it is imperative that the scheduled MDA goes ahead before the end of the year.

What Happens if This Work Does Not Go Ahead?

If we are unable to complete the trachoma elimination activities planned for 2020, it could have a significant impact on the progress towards elimination in Ethiopia. Given the prevalence of the disease in Ethiopia, most district populations require multiple annual rounds of antibiotic treatment before it can be eliminated.

Due to the impact of wet and dry seasons on accessibility to these rural locations and on the population’s need to plant and harvest crops during specific seasons, these rounds must take place at certain times of the year. So, if a round is missed in 2020, it might not be possible to deliver it to the population for another six or 12 months, by which time the disease may have spread unchecked. After delays in some districts earlier this year, it is imperative that we deliver antibiotic treatment to the population by the end of 2020.


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