Ethiopians supporting WHO's SAFE Strategy

Great Ethiopian Run: visiting Gamo Gofa

December 2018

​Travelling to Ethiopia for the Great Ethiopian Run was incredible and a lot of fun. But visiting Gamo Gofa, runner Emma says in her second blog, was the most memorable and moving part of the trip.

On Monday morning, after a weekend in Addis Ababa and a few hours to rest our legs from the race, we took a short internal flight from Addis to Gamo Gofa. The scenery from the plane window was lush and green; definitely not what I would have expected or thought of when someone asked me to visualise Ethiopia.

We spent some time in a local Dorze village, experiencing life in the hills and how traditions are carried down through the generations. We were invited into their homes, made from mud and straw, initially built with very tall walls to help protect the structure from termites. After an afternoon with the Dorze, we were welcomed to the villages of Chencha, Bonke and Dita to visit the Eliminating Trachoma projects that Orbis funds there.

The impact Orbis is having on eliminating blinding trachoma was immediately evident. We visited the primary health care unit in Chencha, where the outreach worker explained that the number of cases he sees of patients needing surgery is becoming less and less.

Mass drug administrations are also becoming more infrequent as eye disease continues to decrease where Orbis has invested and committed to working over the past few years.

Great Ethiopian Run participants visiting a local village

Our Great Ethiopian Run team visiting a traditional village

However, some patients are presenting still needing surgery, which is where we met 42-year-old Gete. Mum-of-five Gete is a housewife who sometimes helps her family by carrying fire wood and groceries for other people, and who needed trachomatous trichiasis surgery on her right eye.

The surgery is carried out by Orbis-trained local eye care health workers. It flips the eyelids of those suffering to prevent the lashes from scratching the cornea every time they blink. By doing the surgery in the local community, residents minimise their travel time. Follow up and check-up is common place as residents can easily attend appointments at a later date. Plus, the eye care worker is local to the community and so invaluable at calming patients before their surgery and offering them assurances.

The surgery that we witnessed only took about 15 minutes. Gete was clearly nervous and anxious at first. But as soon as the anaesthetic set in, she realised the surgeon was being honest – she really wouldn’t feel a thing!

She started laughing and prodding at her cheek and eyelid showing us that she couldn’t feel anything. It was a pleasure to watch her transform and lie back and allow the surgeon to continue without any concerns of ensuing pain.

An Ethiopian patient having trachoma surgery

A patient undergoing trachomatous trichiasis surgery

She kept asking if the surgeon was finished and as soon as he was, she sat up straight with a wide smile on her face. And it was as simple as that. She would return 24 hours later for a check-up and to have her eye patch removed and her sight restored. We had witnessed a miracle. And it was a brief, painless, and cost-free miracle for that patient. The work being done here is clearly invaluable and the investment in local facilities and in local integrated health care workers was evident.

From the clinic we headed to a primary school, just a few hundred metres from the clinic. We had seen ‘S and ‘A’ from the SAFE strategy (surgery for turned-in eyelids and antibiotics to treat and prevent active infection) and were now looking forward to seeing how Orbis is supporting with ‘F’ and ‘E’ (facial cleanliness to prevent disease transmission and environmental change to increase access to water and sanitation) sides of the strategy.

The cars parked on a muddy track and schoolchildren of all ages, some with even smaller children strapped to their backs, greeted us singing and dancing.

They took us by the hand and led us up the track to their school, where they had put out seating under a shaded spot for us. The children performed a play they had written, which highlights the importance of eye health and outlines what to do if someone suspects they have a problem.

Children perform a play about eye health at an Ethiopian school

Children perform a play about eye health at an Ethiopian school

Apparently they perform this play regularly in front of rural villages and friends – a great way to enforce the message among their peer group. Although we couldn’t understand a word of what was spoken, through their props it was easy to follow the message and it was warming to see the engagement and laughs of their audience, who were clearly focusing on the messages being shared.

After the performance, the children showed us the new latrines that have been built. The girls in particular were very proud of their new latrine building and the security it offered them. Improvements like these to the environment help manage the spread of trachoma and ensure that it is not even given a chance to re-emerge in these communities.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without a ‘Europe vs Africa’ volley ball match. We’ll be back again once we’ve had some practice!

If you'd like to know more about getting involved with the Great Ethiopian Run next year, simply email Emma, our Corporate Partnerships manager, as below...