Faces of women with trachoma

Doctors in Ethiopia walk from village to village to help eradicate eye disease that can lead to permanent blindness.

| | Health, Africa, Ethiopia

Oromia Province, EthiopiaEthiopia is facing a health crisis, with 800,000 people at risk of becoming permanently blind from the infectious eye disease trachoma, if they do not receive eye surgery urgently.

Another 76 million people live in areas where they are in danger of becoming infected. This is the epicentre of the trachoma scourge with the highest infection rates in the world.

Trachoma is one of the world's oldest diseases which has become a modern affliction as well. Over years or decades, repeated infections make the eyelid curl inwards. As the eyelashes scratch the surface of the eye, the damage slowly leads to blindness. Without medical care, the impairment can be irreversible.

Life cycle: Trachoma - The infectious eye disease can be cured in its early stages yet many are blinded by it.

Trachoma affects overwhelmingly more women than men because it is often carried by young children, who reinfect their mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers.

Dr Wondu Alemayehu, a world-renowned Ethiopian eye surgeon, is working with international development NGO The Fred Hollows Foundation to eradicate blinding trachoma in Ethiopia.

"It’s heartbreaking. Mothers, who are the pillars of their families in Ethiopia, are shouldering the burden of this crisis," Dr Wondu told Al Jazeera.

"We must urgently provide more antibiotics, more mobile surgical teams, and better access to clean water and sanitation. I’ve spent 30 years fighting trachoma and I hate this disease so much."

Brian Doolan, chief executive of The Fred Hollows Foundation, said trachoma is known as the "quiet disease" because it destroys eyesight very slowly.

"This is not a typical emergency, it's not a war or a natural disaster, but it could still have a devastating impact on millions of people."

The End is in Sight - What is causing hundreds of thousands of people to go blind in Ethiopia?


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