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Project background

Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide. This painful disease begins as a contagious infection similar to conjunctivitis, but with far greater consequences. Multiple infections cause the eyelashes to turn inward and painfully scrape the surface of the eye. This can cause permanent and irreversible blindness.

Ethiopia has the world’s largest burden of trachoma. More than 70 million people live in trachoma endemic areas in the country. 

The Fred Hollows Foundation is working to eliminate trachoma from Ethiopia by 2020, consigning this ancient disease to the history books and saving the eyesight of hundreds of thousands of people. 

Project activities

We reach the most remote and under-serviced communities affected by trachoma. Teams of eye health workers are deployed across the country, screening for eye disease, distributing antibiotics and performing sight-saving surgery.

To reduce the trachoma backlog, The Foundation invests in training trachoma surgeons, case finders and community health workers. These health workers play a vital role in identifying trachoma hotspots and providing surgery for those who need it. 

Lastly, we’ve been putting resources toward strengthening our face washing and environmental improvement strategies. Behaviours do not change easily, and there is long-term work that needs to be done to ensure improvements in these areas and make sure that reinfections don’t occur.

The Foundation has supported substantial work to rehabilitate water schemes, educate communities and schools about face washing and hygiene, and address open defecation.

Project results

The Foundation’s sight-saving work in Ethiopia is showing excellent progress. With your support, The Fred Hollows Foundation achieved the following results between January and June 2019: 

  • 9,489 sight-saving surgeries and treatments performed 
  • 15 million people treated with antibiotics for trachoma
  • 61 water points built or repaired 
  • 13,197 community health workers trained in eye health 

The Foundation will continue its efforts to reduce the surgical backlog and eliminate trachoma in 2020.  

Case study: Hawiti's story

Hawiti, a 60-year-old grandmother, lived with trachoma for over a year before she visited an eye clinic in remote Ethiopia. Without treatment, every painful blink was bringing her closer to blindness.

Barely able to see, Hawiti walked for three hours, setting out at dawn with her daughter by her side.

At the clinic she was met by young surgeon Feyera Bekele, an eye care worker trained by The Fred Hollows Foundation to perform trachoma surgery. Trachoma is a disease of poverty. It’s found in some of the poorest and most remote parts of the world, where there is poor sanitation, a lack of water and limited medical facilities.

Tragically, years of instability, drought and famine has taken its toll on the country’s development. Most of Ethiopia’s population live in rural areas with limited access to medical and eye health services. Surgery is the only way to prevent permanent blindness. Controlling the spread of the disease through antibiotics and providing ongoing education and better hygiene is also vital.

With your support, our efforts to eliminate trachoma in Ethiopia have made it possible for more people like Hawiti to access sight-saving treatment. The day after her surgery, when her patches came off, Hawiti’s beaming smile said it all. For the first time in more than a year she could see clearly. Her crippling pain was gone.

Hawiti told us, “I felt free when they took the patch off. I bless you all for giving me better sight.”

What next?

As we inch closer towards eliminating trachoma in Ethiopia, The Foundation will continue to scale up its sight-saving work in 2020. This includes delivering outreach eye care, distributing antibiotics and ensuring trachoma is prevented through improved hygiene and sanitation practices. 

Can I visit this project?

Interested donors should contact The Fred Hollows Foundation. For more information, please go to

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