Abiyot & Malate

Abiyot is an Integrated Eye Care Worker in Gamo Gofa, Ethiopia, where he grew up. He lives there with his wife and four children. Trained just two years ago, he has made a significant impact on his community already.

Abiyot says: “I remember my first surgery. It was done in Konso in the very first training. I was a bit nervous, but my guide came and showed me how to do it. I watched carefully and from then on, I started doing the perfect surgery!”

He’s joking, but he’s not wrong. Since Abiyot began working, he hasn’t had a single complication in any of his surgeries. In his 20 day training alone, he performed 32 surgeries; he was the first in the training process to do this.

Abiyot works from a small surgery, with just one bed and sterilised surgical instruments. He covers two health centres, performing up to 50 trachomatous trichiasis surgeries a month. He also performs home visits, and says this is where he is able to “find the cases”, before bringing them to the health centre for treatment.

Colleagues say he is “wonderful”. During our visit, while walking through one of the communities Abiyot works in, an old woman, who happened to be walking past, stopped him. They spoke briefly, and he checked her eyes there and then. He is clearly trusted. During a day spent at one of the health centres Abiyot covers, he had bought lunch for patients treated that day, as well as the family members who had come with them.

One of Abiyot’s patients is Malate, whom he performed trachoma surgery on. We first met Malate at the Chencha health care center. She was waiting for Abiyot.

Malate tells us about her eyesight issues “For more than a year I’ve been suffering with this eye problem. It started with tearing, then throbbing eye pain."

Repeated trachoma infections caused severe scarring on the inside of Malate's eyelids, and her eyelashes have turned inward.

Malate says Abiyot has helped her a great deal - they met during a community campaign about trachoma treatment and prevention. All of Malate’s community came out to hear Abiyot speak about an upcoming outreach programme.

Malate says: “When he passed through he saw me and he grabbed my hand, and he saw my eyes. He said 'what was I waiting for'? He told me to come to the health centre as soon as possible.”

The surgery goes well, and Abiyot patches her eye. Four days later, when Abiyot visits Malate at home, the change is immediately noticeable. Home is a traditional Dorze hut made of woven bamboo, approached on a steep walk through lush green hills. She is talkative, playing with her two children, son Kenenisa, 1 and daughter Tejitu, 3.

Abiyot checks Malate’s eyes, and says they are healing very well. Malate says: "I had excruciating pain in my eyes before this surgery. It was very itchy and I had a lot of tears coming out and also a white discharge. It was very painful for me to cook food because we use wood, and the smoke would make my eyes really painful. Now I feel better, so it’s going to change.”

Malate is overjoyed that she made the decision to finally seek help: “I was very happy when Abiyot told me that the surgery was given for free. I couldn’t believe that I was going to have my sight back.”

Not only is her pain gone, but having her sight back means that she can make some changes in her life that will help her to become more independent. She says: “My job was, and still is, to pick the grass and sell it from our back yard. I also did some weaving – not making clothing, but to prepare the thread. I also pick wood from the forest and sell it in the market. Now that I have full vision, without any pain, I’m planning to plant potatoes and sell it in the market – and also barley.”

She adds: “I’m really happy. As you can see I’m really excited to start this new chapter, and I would like to thank Orbis, the government and everybody for helping me have this surgery for free. Thank you so much.”