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Trachoma, a disease of poverty, is placing entire generations of people - especially mothers and children - at risk of blindness. The Fred Hollows Foundation is working hard to change that for the better.
Trachoma, a bacterial infection that can eventually cause irreversible blindness, was eradicated from the United States more than a century ago.
Yet in Ethiopia, more than 76 million people are at risk of contracting trachoma.
It is a scourge which is prevalent in hot dusty areas where people lack access to clean water and sanitation. Left untreated, the eyelashes can turn inward scraping the cornea, leading to agonisingly painful blindness.
Ophthalmologist Dr Wondu examines Azmera's eyes after surgey Photo: Michael Amendolia
Like many sufferers, Azmera used the worrento, a type of tweezer to pluck out her eyelashes one by one in a desperate bid to save her sight and reduce the pain.
But The Foundation has saved Azmera’s sight as well as thousands of other Ethiopians. An army of community-based health workers, trained by The Foundation, has already treated millions of people with an antibiotic designed to prevent trachoma.
Surgeons are going village to village to conduct operations on the most advanced cases. The Foundation’s Global Technical Adviser on trachoma, Dr Wondu Alemayehu, said what is so shocking was that the worst cases are among mothers and children.
The simple act of caring for a child - touching, cuddling, and even washing – can spread infection. And if left untreated, they can lose their sight altogether. Dr Wondu is determined to stamp out the scourge. “The pain and devastation of trachoma can be stopped by under twenty minutes of surgery,” he says.
Azmera had advanced trachoma, on both lower lids, but thanks to surgery, her eye lashes are now turned outwards and her cornea spared. After six years of pain, she looked up at Dr Wondu after the operation and said:
“Now I can see my children, I can go back to work, and we can live a better life. I am just so happy.”
The North Shewa Blinding Trachoma Elimination Project is a six-year project running from 2013 to 2018 and is currently mid-way through the project.
There is always more work to be done as we strive to end avoidable blindness. The Foundation relies on the continued support of our generous donors to achieve Fred’s dream of a world where no one is needlessly blind.
The Foundation will continue to implement the S.A.F.E. strategy to eliminate trachoma in Oromia in 2016, expanding the project area to Horo Gudru, East Wollega and other zones.
Activities include recruiting and deploying experienced surgical teams, as well as training and equipping more surgeons to address the critical levels of patients requiring surgery for blinding trachoma.
The Foundation will work with project partners to ensure effective distribution of antibiotics to treat active trachoma. Behaviour change and community education activities will be undertaken to improve hygiene practices to reduce the spread of active trachoma. These include school education and drama clubs as well as training teachers on facial cleanliness messages.
The Foundation will work in collaboration with government and non-government organisations to build on existing water, sanitation and hygiene programs to achieve the environmental change component of the S.A.F.E strategy.
Interested donors should contact The Foundation directly.