Rahel’s story

Rahel Kasaw is sitting down outside with trees behind her. She is leaning on her hand and looking to the side. She is wearing a bright pink cardigan.

Rahel Kasaw is no longer scared of light. After years of suffering from severe pain in her eyes and sensitivity to bright lights, the 18-year-old from the Raya Alamata district in northern Ethiopia is now able to attend school and read books with no pain.

For five years, life was tough for Rahel. She was in constant discomfort, her eyes watered excessively and, because of light sensitivity, she became fearful of bright light. “I thought I would go blind,” she explains. “I had almost lost hope that I could complete my education.”

She was suffering from advanced trachoma, an eye infection that causes the eyelashes to turn inward, resulting in continuous, painful scraping against her eye. Others in her family experienced the same symptoms and used traditional methods to try to relieve the pain. Rahel took her family’s advice and tried epilation to pluck out her eyelashes, but this didn’t stop the irritation or improve her sight.

Eventually, Rahel was in too much pain to attend school. “It was very hard for me to attend my class on a regular basis,” she says. “Sometimes I thought that I was different from my fellow classmates. Sometimes I missed my class due to the pain.”

A sight-saving operation

Fortunately, Rahel heard about the eye care services being offered at Timuga Health Centre close to her home. She visited the centre and was diagnosed with advanced trachoma infection in both of her eyes, which, if left untreated, can lead to blindness. After receiving support and counselling, Rahel had an operation to stop her eyelashes rubbing on her eyes, which relieved the pain and enabled her to continue with her studies.

Rahel’s treatment was funded by the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) as part of a five-year trachoma control programme managed by Sightsavers on behalf of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control.

Rahel says: “I am so grateful for the service I got. I didn’t imagine that such pain could be relieved with 20 minutes of surgery, and also without any cost to me. I had almost lost my hope, but now my hope is back, and I will read my books without any pain in my eyes.”

Now her trachoma has been treated, the constant eye pain is no longer holding Rahel back from daily activities with her classmates. Her vision has been restored, she is able to read books, attend school and her fear of light is a thing of the past. In fact, she’s so pleased with the success of her surgery that she’s hoping to persuade others in her family to seek treatment.

“I feel I am equal to my classmates now,” she explains. “I will support my parents to have the operation and save their sight like mine.”

A lady with a turquiose top on is holding a notepad with a phone resting on top. You cannot see the ladies face.

Trachoma in Ethiopia: the facts

  • More than 75 million people live in trachoma-endemic areas in Ethiopia – the largest number of any country in the world.
  • The backlog of people who urgently need eyelid surgery to prevent blindness from trichiasis is more than 693,000 – again, the largest number of any country in the world.
  • In 2012, Ethiopia launched its first Trachoma Action Plan to tackle the disease, followed by the DFID-funded Global Trachoma Mapping Project (GTMP) to collect data about the disease using smartphones.
  • The GTMP identified that more than 90 per cent of districts in Ethiopia had trachoma at levels that demand a public health solution.
  • Between July 2015 and July 2016, the International Coalition for Trachoma Control (supported by DFID) treated 9.4 million people with antibiotics to combat trachoma infection.
  • To date, more than 16 million antibiotic treatments have been distributed.

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