Our work in Ethiopia spans more than 20 years. In that time, along with other NGOs and the Government of Ethiopia, we've taken significant steps towards eliminating trachoma as a public health problem. It’s especially important that we prevent trachomatous trichiasis (the advanced stage of trachoma in which the eyelid turns inwards, painfully scratching the cornea) because, if left untreated, it can lead to permanent blindness. To fight trachoma in Ethiopia, we carry out mass distributions of antibiotics, eye screenings and surgeries.
Last year, in the SNNPR Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region, social distancing restrictions meant that health workers could not be physically close enough to patients to examine them for clear signs of trachoma. Relying instead on their judgement, more people were referred to specialist eye care workers with suspected trachoma, increasing their caseloads. In one regional zone, we worked with the government to add eye health questions to door-to-door COVID-19 questionnaires – an ingenious socially distant screening method that helped maintain momentum with the screening programme.
We also played a significant role in developing the Federal Ministry of Health's national Standard Operating Procedures, mandating PPE and house-to-house rather than clustered administration of drugs. These vital measures were time and resource-intensive but helped make sure we could administer antibiotics to entire populations, as required, while minimising the risk of coronavirus transmission. Despite not being able to start dispensing drugs until December, we still supported the delivery of more than 4.3 million sight-saving doses.