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Trachoma Elimination Efforts Bearing Fruit

By Meseret Wodaje

World Sight Day (WSD) is an annual day of awareness held on the second Thursday of October to focus global attention on blindness and vision impairment. This celebratory day was created by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) to spread awareness around preventable blindness and visual impairment. This year, Orbis and its partners are preparing to celebrate WSD with the motto of “Make Vision Count” or “ለዓይናችን ዋጋ እንስጥ”.

At Orbis, we bring people together in the fight against avoidable blindness. Along with our partners, we improve access to quality eye care where it’s needed most, and we strive to make fighting blindness a priority in the areas that we work. As part of its ongoing projects, Orbis Ethiopia carried out assessment surveys to measure the impacts in our intervention districts. In 2016 alone, from the 21 Orbis intervention districts in Gamo Gofa & Segen Area Peoples Zone, Kembata Tembaro Zone, Halaba Special Woreda, as well as Gurage Zones, the impact survey results showed that the Trachomatous Folliculitis (TF) or active Trachoma and Trachomatous Trichiasis (TT) or blinding trachoma prevalence have declined in all the project districts. 14 Districts showed a decrease in prevalence of active trachoma (TF) to <5%, with another 6 districts showing a decrease in TF to a figure between 5%-10%.

Trachoma is an endemic disease in many districts in Ethiopia affecting more than 800,000 people, accompanied with the risk of irreversible blindness if they do not receive surgery. To eliminate blinding trachoma, the World Health Organization has endorsed implementing the SAFE (Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness, Environmental change) strategy, which includes annual Mass Drug Administrations (MDAs) with Azithromycin to the whole population of endemic districts. As part of this strategy, Orbis Ethiopia has been implementing the SAFE strategy in 81 Woredas of Gurage, Wolaita, Kembata Tembaro Zone, Halaba Special Woreda, South Omo, Gamo Gofa & Segen Area Peoples Zone, Sidama, and Hadiya Zones and Yem Special Woreda in the SNNPRS to tackle trachoma and contribute to the 2020 goal for eliminating trachoma as a public health problem.

After the intensive and widespread SAFE strategy implementation for several years, and including the previous year’s impact assessment surveys, a total of 18 districts in different zones showed active trachoma prevalence was found to be below the WHO cut-off of point, ending the need for Orbis Ethiopia to continue the execution of Mass Drug Administration campaigns. The other elements of the SAFE strategy including surgery, facial cleanliness, and environmental sanitation will still be carried out until the total backlog of trachoma has been cleared.

Dr. Alemayehu Sisay, Country Director of Orbis Ethiopia said: “Orbis was one of the first few organisations that started to implement the WHO-endorsed SAFE strategy, which is designed to treat, prevent, and eliminate trachoma by the end of the year 2020”. Dr. Alemayehu further noted that “the Global Trachoma Mapping Project (GTMP) in Ethiopia and other subsequent surveys revealed that Trachoma prevalence in Orbis-supported districts has declined and that Orbis Ethiopia is on track towards the elimination of blinding Trachoma. Based on the existing evidence in the 21 districts where impact assessment surveys were carried out in 2016, 20 districts showed a decrease in TF as well as TT prevalence compared to the baseline findings”.

As we approach to the celebration of World Sight Day this week, are happy to celebrate the successes achieved with the proven decline of the prevalence of blinding trachoma in certain districts stated in the above. However, it is equally important to acknowledge that there is much more to be done and that this is just the start to the path of total trachoma elimination. We look forward to the continued decline in the prevalence in even more districts which will only be possible with the continued support of our generous funders and committed partners.

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