The village where half the people are at risk of blindness


In the village school of Kuyu, in the heartland of Ethiopia’s Oromia region, more than 20 children put up their hands when asked if anyone in their family has eye problems.

“My mother has lost vision in one eye and the other is causing her big problems,” says one boy. “She can’t see where she’s going.”

Another child says her grandmother is blind in both eyes and is forever pulling out her eyelashes. “She rubs and rubs them,” explains the nine-year-old girl. “They give her terrible pain.”

No hands are raised when the children are asked if they themselves have vision problems.

Yet, when an ophthalmologist examines the children’s eyes, more than half of them are discovered to have infectious trachoma, a bacterial infection which is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness.

The disease starts in childhood. If untreated, the bacteria causes inflammation that leads to scar tissue building up under the eyelid.

The scarring eventually makes the eyelid turn inwards, causing the eyelashes to scratch against the cornea.

It is excruciatingly painful and if left untreated leads to irreversible blindness.

“The dangerous thing about trachoma is that there are very few symptoms for children,” says Dr Wondu Alemayehu, one of the leading eye specialists in Ethiopia, and technical adviser for the Fred Hollows Foundation, which is leading a campaign in Ethiopia to tackle the scourge of trachoma.

“A child with trachoma would have a little bit of discomfort but not that much.

“It’s what they pass on to their mothers that can become dangerous.”

The World Health Organization estimates that 21 million people are affected by trachoma, of whom about 2.2 million are visually impaired and 1.2 million blind.

The Oromia region in southern Ethiopia is home to more than 30 million people and has the highest prevalence of trachoma in the country at around 42%. The disease prevails in hot dusty areas where people often lack access to sanitation.

Some three miles (5km) from the school, at a clinic set up to screen for trachoma, 60-year-old Sharage Feyine waits patiently to be examined.

She rubs her eyes incessantly and says her vision problems – pain in both eyes and terrible itching – began a year ago.

“I used to be able to cook for my family. Now I have become dependent,” she says.

Relief to thousands
“The pain and the devastation of trachoma can be stopped by 10 minutes of surgery,” says Dr Alemayehu.

Dr Alemayehu has trained a team of local health workers to perform trichiasis surgery in their community.

The surgery is designed to rotate the eyelid outwards, directing the eyelashes away from the eyeball.

Without the correction, the pain and scarring continues, eventually causing blindness.

Going from village to village, the team is taking treatment directly to those suffering from the disease.

Within Oromia alone, 200,000 people are at risk of going blind unless they have surgery.

Women are twice as likely as men to develop the disease as a result of caring for children who have active trachoma.

Mapping the problem
“Trachoma is a disease of poverty,” says Simon Bush, director of the Neglected Tropical Disease programme at Sightsavers.

“It is endemic in areas which have poor access to water and sanitation.”

The British charity is leading a coalition of NGOs with the ambitious aim of ridding the world of trachoma by 2020.

The first step is to map the prevalence of the disease – a global survey to examine four million people in more than 30 countries by March 2015.

The Global Trachoma Mapping Project, funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development, will identify where people are living at risk of the disease and where treatment programmes are needed.

Key to the mapping process are specially trained ophthalmic nurses who visit each household in the survey area.

Using an app installed on a mobile device, results are instantly uploaded to a site which charts the mapping process.

Monitors also provide antibiotics to anyone showing signs of the infection, and refer those who cannot be treated in this way for surgery.

Two days after surgery, Misiak , a woman in her 40s, returns to the clinic with some trepidation to have her bandages removed.

She admits to having had a sleepless night, worrying about the outcome.

Dr Wondu Alemayehu watches proudly as two members of his surgical team remove Misiak’s bandages before applying ointment to both eyes.

Sitting up, Misiak is initially dazed, but as she begins to realise she can see again, a huge smile lights up her face.

“You are all beautiful!” she exclaims, reaching out to touch Dr Alemayehu’s hand.

Source: BBC news

Ethiopia Steps Up Education Budget to Over 25 Billion Birr

Ethiopia has stepped up its budget for education to over 25 billion Birr with a view to satisfy the nation’s growing demand for trained workforce, Ministry of Education has said. A consultative forum aimed at lobbying for the active involvement and support of partners and the public was held in Adama town on Tuesday.

Speaking on the occasion, Education Minister, Shiferaw Shigute the government has stepped up its budget for education to 25.4 billion Birr with a view to satisfy the nation’s growing demand for trained workforce. The Minister highlighted the key role of partners and the public to address drawbacks in the sector as well as ensure both access and quality.

The forum reached agreement to work harder to augment student intake capacity, cut the rate of school dropouts and repetitions, ensure a 1:1 student-book ratio, furnish school libraries and laboratories, and build information technology capacity. At the end of the consultation, participants expressed readiness to play their part.

Source: article.wn

Rural Ethiopians Spread Good Health Habits Over Coffee

The front porch is the setting for coffee ceremonies where women of Dosha discuss new health practices for the neighborhood (VOA/Joana Mantey)

Thousands of women in Ethiopia have joined a Health Development Army to turn the time-honored cultural practice of drinking coffee together into an opportunity to spread the word about better health practices in their rural communities. The army is made up of small groups of volunteers who gather in traditional coffee ceremonies to encourage behavior change among women and their neighborhoods.

Women in villages throughout Oromia, the largest and most heavily populated of Ethiopia’s rural provinces, gather and talk over several rounds of coffee served in tiny ceramic cups. The beverage is brewed with locally-grown and unprocessed coffee beans roasted and ground by a local woman dressed in traditional Ethiopian attire. The finished product is brewed over a small lemon grass fire and served to invited guests. They take their coffee with sugar, but no milk.

Gossip gives way to talk about hygeine

This long-standing social tradition and source of daily gossip – in a country that claims to be the birthplace of coffee – has become the educational platform used by the local health volunteers of the Health Development Army. They are trained by the government’s vast network of health extension workers to bring behavior change at the community level and whip up support for government health programs.

Datu Badadha, leader of a women’s group that meets for coffee in the village of Dosha, said these educational gatherings allow married women to get together with young women or men in the community for discussions.

The leader of the Health Development Army volunteers in the village of Dosha is Datu Badadha. (VOA/Joana Mantey)Pathfinder International, an international non-profit, provides technical, financial and managerial support to the Ethiopian government’s health programs.

“The Women Development Army are women that have implemented the health extension program of government very well so that others in their communities can see what they are benefitting out of this health extension program so that they can adapt or adopt what this Women Development Army are doing,” said Tariku Nigatu, who works with Pathfinder International in Ethiopia.

Latrines, vaccines and maternity

“In some households, people would not be using latrines and this Women Development Army member would encourage households to dig latrines and use it,” Nigatu continued. “They encourage women to take their children to vaccination. When there are pregnant women they also refer them to seek maternity care from health extension workers and from health centers.”

Tariku added that members of the army are able to interact freely with people in the community because they have a defined physical structure – a mud house with a living room, bedroom and store with separate accommodations for the kitchen, latrine and livestock. A house that fulfills the new requirements is called a model household and its inhabitants can supervise the implementation of health programs in five other homes.

Mesfin Nigussie of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Integrated Family Health Program said, “To be a model household they need to have a latrine, they have to use family planning and their children under one year should be fully immunized. They should have a separate house for living, cooking as well as for cattle. They should also have clean surroundings and eat balanced diets.”

Homes that meet these requirements are awarded certificates. Mesfin said 64 percent of of those in the Oromia region now live in model households, a marked departure from the single huts which used to serve both as sleeping quarters and kitchens.

He said the work of the Health Development Army is also helping to sustain behavior change in communities. Mesfin said the role played by members of the army in social mobilization is as well helping health extension workers to concentrate on clinical duties at the health posts.

Source: Voice of America