This woman's work: Managing the only eye bank in Sub-Saharan Africa

November 2018

Earlier this year we celebrated the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Eye Bank of Ethiopia (EBE) - the only eye bank and tissue harvesting facility in sub-Saharan Africa. One brilliant woman – Lemlem Ayele – is heading up its operation.

We hear more about what it means to be the only person and only woman in her role in all of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Lemlem told us she was first motivated to apply for the position in 2007 after learning that the cornea is critical in saving the sight of people impacted by blindness and visual impairment.

A natural born leader, she previously worked as a program manager at a private university where she underwent leadership training. Eager for a new challenge, she took the job.

She told us how moved she was when visiting the laboratory during the recruitment process and said she was “amazed to see that this was possible in my country”.

The EBE works to reverse corneal blindness through the collection and processing of donor corneas with our partners Himalayan Cataract Project and SightLife.

Under the first year of her leadership, the Eye Bank was able to grow by an incredible 67%. Under her management, the performance of the eye bank has so far doubled – surpassing a milestone of 2000 transplants. What a feat!

Despite the challenges her team faces which includes the low utilization of tissue and the lack of surgeons available, she remains positive and pro-active. Her hardworking and dedicated team does too.

Lemlem modesty admitted that the bank’s achievements all comes down to teamwork.

“Working together is important to ensure we don’t keep people waiting and we are motivated to change our performance to serves others.”

The Eye Bank of Ethiopia is the only eye bank in Sub-Saharan Africa. I am proud of that. Nowadays, a number of African professionals and individuals visit EBE. We are happy to be the leader in the sector. Eye bank professionals should strive for change and growth by managing the different challenges that they are facing. It is very difficult to manage cultural, religious and attitudes towards organ/tissue donation. However, nothing is impossible if we strive for change.

Lemlem Ayele

Eye Bank of Ethiopia

Lemlem takes great pride in maintaining the EBE’s international quality accreditation and standards

EBE is dedicated to working to ensure no one must wait for a cornea transplant in Ethiopia and to increase and improve public awareness about this important topic.

More recently, cornea transplant in Ethiopia has also paved the way for other vital organ transplantations like kidneys.

Thanks to women like Lemlem, thousands more people needing cornea transplants in Ethiopia can look forward to a brighter future.

Women make up 55% of the world’s visually impaired population and shockingly, two thirds of children who are blind are girls.

Through recruiting and training women in the eye health sector in low-income countries like Ethiopia, we can ensure that the next generation of eye care providers is gender balanced.

With this approach, we can also overcome gender barriers and improve the eye health outcomes for women and girls

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