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Orbis International Celebrates 23 Years of Achievements in Trachoma Elimination in Ethiopia this World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day

·4 min read

More than 12 million people received trachoma-fighting antibiotics distributed by Orbis over the past year

NEW YORK, Jan. 27, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Ahead of World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day, leading eye care nonprofit Orbis proudly celebrates 23 years of working to eliminate the blindness-causing infection trachoma in Ethiopia. Most recently, Orbis administered nearly 9 million doses of trachoma-fighting antibiotics in just one month, part of the over 12 million total doses the organization distributed in 2021.

A woman helps her child take a dose of trachoma-fighting antibiotics in Ethiopia. Photo: Orbis International
A woman helps her child take a dose of trachoma-fighting antibiotics in Ethiopia. Photo: Orbis International

Each year, World NTD Day draws attention to the more than 1.7 billion people living with NTDs in some of the most marginalized communities around the globe. One of those NTDs, trachoma, is the world's leading infectious cause of blindness. Globally, an estimated 1.9 million people are blind or have vision impairment due to the disease.

Trachoma is highly contagious, but it is easily treatable with antibiotics if it is caught early. In December 2021, Orbis initiated a mass drug administration (MDA) across 102 districts in Ethiopia's Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region (SNNPR), Sidama, and the new Southwest Region. Orbis ultimately administered more than 12.3 million doses of the antibiotic Azithromycin in these regions, where the burden of trachoma remains particularly high.

In 2021, Orbis also performed more than 16,000 surgeries in cases where trachoma infections had progressed to trachomatous trichiasis, a painful condition in which scarring causes the eyelid to turn in on itself and the eyelashes to scratch the eye, ultimately leading to blindness.

[For photos and case stories from Orbis's December 2021 MDA, please see here.]

Prior to the pandemic, MDAs took place in community settings in Ethiopia, but preventing the spread of COVID-19 has required that the Orbis team take a door-to-door approach in all MDAs since 2020. While safer, the process is nearly twice as time-consuming.

"This World NTD Day, Orbis is proud to join the WHO and more than 300 other organizations coming together to combat NTDs. We know this work is integral to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 3 around good health and well-being," says Dr. Alemayehu Sisay, Country Director for Orbis Ethiopia. "Our team has remained committed to continuing to distribute sight-saving antibiotics, even as we've faced hurdles – from the pandemic to recent events in Ethiopia – because we know how restoring vision changes lives and communities."

Over the past 23 years, Orbis has administered over 94.2 million doses of donated Azithromycin to the community residing in the SNNPR, achieving the elimination threshold for trachoma in 38 districts across the region, as of 2021. Orbis has also conducted more than 190,400 trachomatous trichiasis surgeries and has established more than 320 primary eye care units staffed with a total of 336 Integrated Eye Care Workers.

Good hygiene practices, such as face- and handwashing, also play a crucial role in combating trachoma because of its highly contagious nature. That is why Orbis has supported the construction of communal and school latrines as well as protected water points in the southern region of Ethiopia. Over the past 23 years, Orbis Ethiopia, in collaboration with local partners, has constructed a total of 130 latrine blocks and installed 36 water points throughout communities and schools. We partner with organizations that have experience and resources in behavioral change, which is an integral part of our trachoma-elimination program.

Orbis also leads trachoma-related research, including conducting more than 160 trachoma impact and surveillance surveys across Ethiopia's SNNPR between 2017 and 2021. In collaboration with the Global Trachoma Mapping Project (GTMP), the Federal Ministry of Health, SNNP Regional Health Bureau, and other partners, Orbis helped conduct the surveys that quantified the prevalence of trachoma across the entire SNNPR in 2013. Such work is critical to track progress in eliminating the disease and to target prevention efforts most effectively. Orbis is also working with renowned academic institutions on research that will improve trachomatous trichiasis surgery management to reduce recurrence.

About Orbis International

Orbis is a leading global non-governmental organization that has been a pioneer in the prevention and treatment of avoidable blindness for four decades. Orbis transforms lives by delivering the skills, resources and knowledge needed to deliver accessible quality eye care. Working in collaboration with local partners, including hospitals, universities, government agencies and ministries of health, Orbis provides hands-on ophthalmology training, strengthens healthcare infrastructure and advocates for the prioritization of eye health on public health agendas. Orbis operates the world's only Flying Eye Hospital, a fully accredited ophthalmic teaching hospital on board an MD-10 aircraft, and an award-winning telemedicine platform, Cybersight. For the past nine consecutive years, Orbis has achieved Charity Navigator's coveted four-star rating for demonstrating strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency, placing Orbis in the top 3% of U.S. charities. To learn more, please visit orbis.org.

Kristin Taylor
Head of Global Communications and Marketing


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SOURCE Orbis International