Ethiopians are passionate and proud of their country – and rightly so. Ethiopia is filled with natural beauty, dramatic landscapes and is a country of great cultural diversity. It’s also home to nine UNESCO World Heritage sites, one of the oldest civilisations, and of course, it’s famous for its coffee.
A brief introduction to Ethiopia
Ethiopia is a country of great diversity and has over 80 different ethnic groups. The largest is Oromo, with a population of around 30 million people. Travel through Ethiopia and you’ll experience this cultural richness in dance and song.
Known for its coffee, Ethiopia is the origin of the coffee bean. It’s rare that a meeting of significance will be held without a ceremonial brewing. Coffee exports are Ethiopia’s largest foreign exchange earner and the country produces more coffee than any other nation on the continent.
Despite strong economic growth, there are still issues with poverty, sanitation, access to water and also Ethiopia’s health workers moving abroad for better economic opportunities.
What are the eye health problems?
As a landlocked country with a population of over 90 million, poor sanitation results in a very high number of contagious diseases. One of these is trachoma. It’s a disease of poverty, and is placing many generations of people – especially mothers and children – at risk of blindness. Women are two and a half times more likely to develop trichiasis and blindness as a result of trachoma. More than 76 million are living in trachoma endemic areas and 800,000 people are at risk of blindness.
We work in the largest and most populous state, Oromia. Here, trachoma is confirmed to be endemic. 27 million people are at risk of developing the disease and 200,000 could lose their sight without surgery. People who suffer eye damage and blindness can’t work and must rely on the care of other family members, which is often left to females. This has a negative effect on their life and education is disrupted and their future opportunities become limited.
The Foundation’s programs in Ethiopia
There remain many obstacles to better eye health in Ethiopia. For starters, there’s a shortage of trained eye health nurses and specialist doctors – the country has only 120 ophthalmologists, and most work in Addis Ababa. Medical infrastructure, equipment and supplies are in chronic short supply.
The Fred Hollows Foundation has implemented the SAFE program which is endorsed by the World Health Organisation. This is part of our strategy to eradicate trachoma in Ethiopia, and we work with communities and our partners to implement this.
We’re also training female health extension workers who speak with women in the community and encourage them to value their health, promote our trachoma work, have their eyes checked and to receive surgery if they need it. Encouraging women to be a part of their community’s welfare will not only help with education and prevention, but will begin to address the gender imbalance.
Treating people with trachoma is relatively cheap and simple, and while eliminating it is difficult, it’s within our reach.