What is Trachoma?
ORBIS UK’s Head of Major Donor Fundraising, Liz Allen, recently visited Ethiopia and saw firsthand the amazing impact school eye care clubs can have on a community. Here she tells us her story…
Trachoma is a highly infectious eye disease which is spread by flies, poor sanitation and contact.
As the infection develops over time it pulls the eyelid inwards (trichiasis) so that the eyelashes scratch the front of the eyeball with every blink causing great pain and if left untreated, blindness.
Set up to bring awareness and understanding to areas struggling with trachoma, school eye care clubs are a vital tool in the drive to educate communities about important preventable measures people should take to keep their eyes and their families healthy; information which is then disseminated effectively throughout the area. I was looking forward to seeing one in action.
Upon my arrival in Bula Kabele, Bonke Woreda, I was welcomed by a singing and dancing delegation from Bola Zame School, where I was to spend the afternoon. As I was led to the outdoor stage where the eye care club meets, it was explained to me that just 10 children from a total of 1000 students are chosen to educate their fellow pupils in good eye care practices.
Competition for these spots is fierce as the club carries great prestige within the student body. This area is extremely rural and poor and with 2 in 5 children suffering from trachoma in the region, innovative educational schemes such as these are much needed.
I was informed that during their meetings, the eye care club is taught about the importance of hand washing, proper latrine use and hygiene, which they then communicate to their fellow students in a variety of ways, including singing songs and drama.
The eye care club will perform different treatment scenarios to the school. They split into two groups, each representing families: one demonstrating the correct way to respond when suffering from an eye infection, the other highlighting the opposite.
I watched intently from the stage as one group - or family - took their daughter to the ORBIS trained nurse at the local health centre, as soon as she began to exhibit symptoms of trachoma. She was evaluated and given treatment straight away.
The other family, when faced with the same difficulties, waited to see if the symptoms would subside on their own. When they failed to do so, they took their daughter to a traditional healer who prescribed an ointment which only aggravated the infection and caused further damage.
In the next stage of the performance, the little girl whose trachoma was cured quickly began talking to the child who was still suffering and in a lot of pain. After explaining that she had indeed experienced the same symptoms but visited the health centre and now was cured, the other hurried home to tell her parents, who then decided to take their daughter to find out more.
I was lucky enough to witness fist hand how this club plays an enormous role in educating the community. And with a student body of 1000, the important messages regarding hygiene, quick action and appropriate treatment have the capacity to reach a vast amount of people at risk of this painful and debilitating condition.
The club’s impact and influence doesn’t stop with the students it teaches; through performances at family days it spreads the word even wider. And when club members have families of their own they’ll educate them too, creating a chain reaction that truly spans generations.
Help us to set up more clubs to educate those in at-risk communities about the prevention and treatment of avoidable eye care conditions: