The Eye Health Field Assistants Taking on Coronavirus in Ethiopia

June 2020

As many of the routine eye health services in Ethiopia have been temporarily suspended, a group of local eye health Field Assistant and Drivers are now working to keep their communities safe from coronavirus.

Prior to coronavirus, the Field Assistant and Drivers would spend their time providing transportation services for patients, spreading eye care awareness in local communities and helping with mass drug administration.

Ermias Mulugeta, one of the Field Assistant and Drivers who was working with Orbis in the town of Mizan Aman, told us: “Before the pandemic, my role was assisting outreach activities in trachomatous trichiasis (advanced trachoma) surgery, training Case Finders [who conduct house-to-house searches for trachomatous trichiasis cases], and sometimes I provide the transportation service to trachomatous trichiasis patients. In COVID-19 prevention, it is about awareness creation and providing transportation to zonal and woreda level health workers.”

Ermias Mulugeta, Field Assistant and Driver in Mizan Aman

Whilst the group’s roles have changed, many of the awareness raising skills they utilise during their work with Orbis are directly transferable to their work to protect people from coronavirus. Asfaw Mulugeta, another Field Assistant and Driver who works in the Dawuro zone, told us: “I share different messages to the community. The messages are to keep their social distance, wash their hands with soap and water frequently and to stay at home. Also, I informed the community to report to the health facilities if there are people with symptoms like sore throat, cough, fever, shortness of breath. I shared these messages in market areas and other social gatherings by using megaphones.”

Asfaw Mulugeta, Field Assistant and Driver in the Dawuro zone

In fact, some of their usual messaging has stayed the same: “Yes indeed”, Fikru Atnafu, Field Assistant and Driver in the Gurage Zone, explains “mainly on ‘washing hands frequently’ ... as this message is one of the strategies in trachoma prevention and control. We have been educating our community to wash their hands and face with soap more often.”

Fikru Atnafu, Field Assistant and Driver in the Gurage Zone

The group know all too well how difficult it is to reach and keep people’s attention in busy towns and cities. Sinshaw Tadesse, Field Assistant and Driver in the Wolaita Zone, told us how hard they have had to work to reach as many people as possible: “We use big amplifiers with recorded COVID-19 key messages, and use town criers or mobilisers and involving artists to get more visibility. All the messages are translated to local languages.”

He went on to describe the precautions he and the rest of the group were having to take: “[While working] I wear a face mask, gloves and other personal protective equipment during our work. This sometimes bring some discomfort, otherwise it is ok.” However even with heightened risks to his own health, he sees it as worth the risk: “Despite travelling to many districts at this very difficult time, which might expose myself to the virus, I am proud to help my community. I hope this pandemic will be over soon, and we will return to our normal life.“

We are incredibly proud of all the key workers around the world who have turned their hand to fighting the coronavirus, and we can’t wait to support Field Assistant and Drivers like Ermias, Asfaw, Fikru and Sinshaw when they return to their mission of protecting people’s sight in their communities.

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