Sightsavers Reports

“I want to work hard to see a world free from trachoma.”

Givemore Mafukidze, wearing a Sightsavers tshirt, stands with Dr Agatha Aboe.

Dr Agatha Aboe, from Ghana, has worked at Sightsavers for 10 years. She’s extremely dedicated to eliminating the blinding neglected tropical disease (NTD) trachoma and is a keen advocate for women leadership.

Agatha is Sightsavers’ global trachoma programme coordinator. Her role includes giving technical advice to trachoma programmes in endemic countries, and to ensure everyone is following the SAFE strategy, international standards and best practices.

“My passion in trachoma elimination is about saving the sight of people and ensuring that people don’t fall into the cycle of poverty due to this avoidable blinding disease. I have a lot of passion for trachoma elimination, so much that I don’t want to do anything else. I want to work hard to see a world free of trachoma.”

Trachoma is one of the world’s oldest recorded diseases: it has been blinding humans for thousands of years. This NTD thrives where there are water shortages, poor sanitation and infestations of flies. If not treated, trachoma causes the eyelashes to turn inwards and scrape against the eye with every blink, leading to terrible pain, and over time, blindness. The agony of trachoma can lead to a cycle of poverty, limiting many people’s access to health services, education and employment.

Trachoma group screening

Ghana's hidden hero

Dr Agatha Aboe was nominated for The Bond International Development's humanitarian honour award for her impressive leadership of Ghana’s national trachoma elimination programme.

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A woman checks a child's eyes for signs of trachoma while a group of children look on.
Dr Agatha Aboe checks a child's eyes during a trachoma screening in Zimbabwe.

When Agatha first started working on the Ghana National Trachoma Programme, trachoma was a major public health problem across the country. But thanks in part to Agatha’s leadership and sheer determination, in 2018 Ghana became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate blinding trachoma.

“The day that the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Ghana had eliminated trachoma and gave us the validation letter, my heart was overjoyed. It had been my dream to see that day come and I felt so proud to be on the forefront of that success. It’s a lifetime achievement and one I look forward to supporting other countries with.”

But reaching this milestone was no easy feat; like all great achievements, it came with its own challenges.

“There was a period when the attention was more focused on distributing treatment through mass drug administration and trachoma surgeries, but lacking on water and sanitation. I didn’t want communities to see an increase of trachoma because they did not have clean water and adequate sanitation in place.”

Thankfully, progress has been made to address that challenge and the development of clean water and good sanitation is becoming more common in areas across Ghana. Where these resources were once lacking, Agatha expresses, “the communities are now very clean”.

When asked what advice she would give to endemic countries during their own journey to eliminate trachoma, Agatha says: “Women need to be included in the fight to eliminate this blinding disease. Women play a huge role in ensuring their children are kept clean and that there is water in their communities.

“We need to have women coming together to make sure that we fight this terrible disease. To make it a thing of the past, all around the world. Wherever there’s a presence of trachoma, and at every level of elimination effort, you will find women there.”

Agatha is a doctor by profession, with a specialisation in ophthalmology and background in community health.

“My mother and father really inspired me throughout my childhood. When I was a young girl my parents saw that I was intelligent, and my father told me that I would be a great doctor and someone who would help many people in the future. My family has always been very supportive and I know my husband and children are proud of me. I have carried that inspiration and support throughout my life.”

“We need to have women coming together to make sure that we fight this terrible disease.”

A woman laughing.

“I am so passionate about this work; it is about the people and the community. And I know, first-hand, that elimination of blinding trachoma is possible.”

A woman laughing.

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