Identifying the trachoma infection and operating on cases of advanced trachoma (known as trichiasis) is crucial to stop the spread of the disease. Health professionals already need to wear magnifying equipment over their eyes to do this work, so adding face masks or shields to the equation isn’t straightforward.
After large-scale efforts to tackle trachoma were paused at the start of the pandemic, it has been difficult to safely resume close-contact work such as eye examinations and operations. The PPE design challenge was set up with participants from around the world to ensure that people wouldn’t miss out on essential healthcare.
“We started to think about distributing the first protective barriers as soon as the pandemic began,” says Georges Yaya from the Ministry of Health in Central African Republic, who took part in the challenge. “We were anxious about transmitting the disease to remote communities where we were carrying out our work.”
To comply with safety measures to avoid the spread of the virus, extra protective equipment is needed during eye exams and treatment, including a mask and goggles or a face shield for health professionals. The difficulty for trachoma staff is that they often wear specialist optical ‘loupes’ – spectacles that magnify the eye area to enable them to perform this precise work – and the additional PPE causes the loupes to steam up, affecting their vision.
It can also be cumbersome, and in some cases impossible, to carry out work wearing this additional equipment, especially when many eye examinations and some operations are conducted outside in humid locations, meaning the loupes are even more likely to steam up. Storing, cleaning and transporting PPE is also much harder in the field than it is in a hospital.
Despite these challenges, Georges is confident the team will find a solution that health professionals can work with. “It’s just a question of time and it will become habit,” he says. “Take surgical gloves, for example. At the start it’s hard to operate with them on, but once they’re part of your day to day, you forget you’re wearing them.”