Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest nations, is burdened with one of the world’s highest levels of avoidable blindness. An estimated 1.6% of the population is blind, with approximately 12% of this blindness caused by trachoma — a highly infectious eye disease that is entirely preventable. Trachoma is spread through contact with an infected person’s hands or clothing, or by flies that have come in contact with the discharge from an infected eye or nose.
When left untreated, repeated infections lead to trichiasis, an agonizing condition in which the eyelid turns inward, causing the eyelashes to painfully “rake” across the surface of the eye, scarring the cornea and eventually leading to blindness.
ORBIS has been working with the Ethiopian government and local partners to implement the World Health Organization’s SAFE strategy, an acronym for surgery, antibiotics, face washing and environmental change. This strategy includes a national effort to build latrines, educate community members on trachoma prevention, and train rural eye care workers to distribute antibiotics and perform sight-preserving eyelid surgeries. These interventions cost very little but contribute immeasurably to an individual’s quality of life.
To learn more about trachoma and view photos from a March 2008 trip to southern Ethiopia, follow this link to a soundslide. Or, click here to watch a segment from ORBIS's 2007 annual report entitled, "Uncover the Truth about Blindness in Ethiopia."