Press Release: Orbis International Celebrates 22 Years of Achievements in Trachoma Elimination in Ethiopia this World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day

More than 7.5 million people received trachoma-fighting antibiotics, despite pandemic challenges, in most recent accomplishment

January 28, 2021, NEW YORK – Ahead of World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day, leading eye care nonprofit Orbis proudly celebrates 22 years of working to eliminate the blindness-causing infection trachoma in Ethiopia. Most recently, Orbis administered more than 7.5 million doses of trachoma-fighting antibiotics in just one month despite significant challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trachoma is highly contagious, but it is easily treatable with antibiotics if it is caught early. In December 2020, Orbis initiated a mass drug administration (MDA) across 89 districts in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region (SNNPR), where the burden of trachoma remains particularly high, ultimately administering 7,553,496 doses of the antibiotic Azithromycin.

During that time, Orbis also performed 5,449 surgeries in cases where trachoma infections had progressed to trachomatous trichiasis, a painful condition in which scarring causes the eyelid to turn in on itself and the eyelashes to scratch the eye, ultimately leading to blindness. All procedures were conducted with COVID-19 prevention protocols, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), in place.

Normally, MDAs take place in community settings in Ethiopia, but preventing the spread of COVID-19 required that the Orbis team take a door-to-door approach. While safer, the process is nearly twice as time-consuming.

“Just a couple of years ago, the community working to eliminate trachoma and other neglected tropical diseases celebrated a 91% reduction in the number of people at risk of trachoma around the world, but the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened to set back our progress to eliminate trachoma significantly,” says Dr. Alemayehu Sisay, Country Director for Orbis Ethiopia.

Dr. Alemayehu Sisay

Country Director for Orbis Ethiopia

Just a cou­ple of years ago, the com­mu­ni­ty work­ing to elim­i­nate tra­choma and oth­er neglect­ed trop­i­cal dis­eases cel­e­brat­ed a 91% reduc­tion in the num­ber of peo­ple at risk of tra­choma around the world, but the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has threat­ened to set back our progress to elim­i­nate tra­choma significantly.

“That’s why Orbis and our partners in Southern Ethiopia are especially proud of administering Azithromycin – a potent antibiotic recommended by the World Health Organization to eliminate trachoma – for 7.5 million people living in endemic districts in 2020. Ensuring uninterrupted annual treatment for communities where trachoma is endemic is our main objective. What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that Orbis accomplished this while adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols that make the work more challenging.’’

Over the past 22 years, Orbis has administered over 82 million doses of donated Azithromycin to the community residing in the SNNPR, achieving the elimination threshold for trachoma in 24 districts across the region, as of 2019. Orbis has also conducted nearly 174,222 trachomatous trichiasis surgeries and has established more than 320 primary eye care units.

Good hygiene practices, such as face- and hand-washing, also play a crucial role in combating trachoma because of its highly contagious nature. That is why Orbis has supported the construction of communal and school latrines as well as protected water points in the southern region of Ethiopia. Over the past 22 years, Orbis Ethiopia, in collaboration with local partners, has constructed a total of 126 latrine blocks and installed 36 water points throughout communities and schools.

Orbis also leads trachoma-related research, including conducting more than 100 trachoma impact and surveillance surveys across Ethiopia’s SNNPR between 2013 and 2019. In collaboration with the Global Trachoma Mapping project (GTMP), the Federal Ministry of Health, SNNP Regional Health Bureau and other partners, Orbis helped conduct the surveys that quantified the prevalence of trachoma across the entire SNNPR in 2013. Such work is critical to track progress in eliminating the disease and to target prevention efforts most effectively.

For photos and case stories from Orbis’s December 2020 MDA, please see here.

About Orbis International

Orbis is a leading global non-governmental organization that has been a pioneer in the prevention and treatment of avoidable blindness for nearly four decades. Orbis transforms lives by delivering the skills, resources and knowledge needed to deliver accessible quality eye care. Working in collaboration with local partners, including hospitals, universities, government agencies and ministries of health, Orbis provides hands-on ophthalmology training, strengthens healthcare infrastructure and advocates for the prioritization of eye health on public health agendas. Orbis operates the world's only Flying Eye Hospital, a fully accredited ophthalmic teaching hospital on board an MD-10 aircraft, and an award-winning telemedicine platform, Cybersight. To learn more, please visit

Media Contact

Kristin Taylor Associate Director, Global Marketing and Communications

Address: Orbis
​520 8th Avenue, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10018

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