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Abrehet’s story

Abrehet with her baby.

For many people in developing countries who develop eye problems, the demands of everyday life coupled with the fear of seeking treatment means they may suffer through incredible pain.

For 20-year-old Abrehet Nuguse, a mother of two who lives in Enderta district in northern Ethiopia, visiting her local hospital was a big step.

For two years, Abrehet had been living with pain in her eyes every time she blinked. The responsibilities that come with being a mother, as well as supporting her husband while he works on the farm, made it almost impossible for her to visit the local hospital, despite it being only 15km from her village. “There is no one to take care of my boys and my house. I also have to support my husband on the farm,” she explains.

Eventually the pain became unbearable and she feared she might lose her sight. A health worker in her village told her she should seek help at the hospital, so she decided to make the journey, taking one of her sons with her. She was examined by a nurse, who told her she had advanced trachoma, an infectious eye disease that causes eyelashes to grow inwards and rub against the eye.

“I decided to come because the pain started to affect my very reason for not coming, which is taking care of my boys,” Abrehet explained. She needed a minor operation, but was worried that surgery would be painful. The nurse reassured her and explained that trachoma can cause blindness if left untreated.

“I am sure about one thing – I avoided going blind. I am very happy.”

Abrehet agreed to surgery and, the day after her operation, was eager to have the eye patch removed. She was delighted with the result: she says it is liberating not to feel pain every time she blinks, and she needn’t worry about one day going blind.

Abrehet’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.

“Now I can focus on my children and helping my husband on the farm,” says Abrehet, smiling. “I am sure about one thing – I avoided going blind. I am very happy.”

A trachoma surgeon wearing green scrubs.

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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