School Eye Care Hero

Tackling Trachoma in Ethiopia: School Eye Care Clubs

October 2018

This year marks 20 years of sight-saving work in Ethiopia. One of the many life-changing initiatives we have been spearheading in the country to improve eye care and vision loss, is treating and preventing the spread of trachoma in schools.

20 Years Ethiopia Logo

To combat trachoma we've been training teachers in primary eye care and vision testing - meaning teachers can spot the first signs of eye disease before it’s too late and refer pupils who need glasses.

Dedicated eye care clubs across secondary schools in Gamo Gofa, Ethiopia, allow students to learn how to take good care of their eyes and what to do if their vision begins to deteriorate. The clubs also illustrate the importance of hygiene for good eye care and the prevention of trachoma.

Trachoma is a painful, contagious bacterial infection which can cause blindness. It was eradicated in most industrialized nations by the 1950s but is still common in areas of the world where poor sanitation and lack of clean water are common.

Biology teacher, Banchi, is one of the teachers making a big difference over there following Orbis-supported training in primary eye care. Amazingly, she can now diagnose conditions and refer students as she can identify the signs and symptoms of trachoma and other eye conditions such as cataract and refractive error.

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Banchi told us that she really enjoyed her training and believes it is really helping the school she is working in

So far, she has identified 11 cases of trachoma in the students she has screened and referred them to the health centre for treatment. “When I help a student, they are happy,” she says. “Not just the students, but the community too!

Banchi’s vital role also includes running the School Eye Care Club where pupils get involved in learning about trachoma, eye care and the importance of good hygiene. The pupils can then share this knowledge with their peers, families and community.

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Of the 600 pupils at school, 70 are members of the school eye care club

Every semester, the whole school comes together to watch the 50 students in Banchi’s club put on a performance about trachoma and eye care. Banchi points out that it’s not just the pupils who turn up, but people from the community too. During our visit to Banchi’s school the club performed two poems, a short play, and a song accompanied by a traditional dance; and of course, no performance is complete without a local buna (coffee).

One of the performances we were privileged to see was a dramatic performance, centered on a boy who ignores advice from his classmates about hygiene and contracts trachoma. Fortunately, he is visited by a Health Extension Worker who diagnoses his condition and refers him for treatment at a health center.

Raising awareness of eye health through dramatic performances

44% of the world’s trachoma is found in Ethiopia. Almost 70 million people in the country live in areas needing mass drug administration and other interventions to address trachoma infections. Nearly 75% of surgeries for trachomatous trichiasis (a 20-minute routine operation) are carried out there.

Banchi’s role is an important one. She said: “I enjoy it. I’m happy when I help someone!”

Thanks to people like her, we can keep boosting the eye health of pupils in schools across Ethiopia. And while we have enjoyed great success there over the past 20 years, there is still a huge amount of work to be done. Over this time the population has grown from around 65 million to 105 million, putting extra strain on already overstretched resources.

We must do more if we are to help Ethiopia reach its target of eradicating blinding trachoma by 2020. But we can’t do it alone. Will you help us?

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