Patient stories: treating Malate, Ethiopia, for trachoma

Mother of two Malate had been suffering with trachoma for a year without seeking help for fear of the cost. When she met Abiyot, an Orbis-trained Integrated Eye Care Worker, everything changed. Now, having undergone trachomatous trichiasis surgery, Malate is excited to start this new chapter in her life.

We first meet Malate at Chencha health centre. She is sitting on a bench outside the small operating room, holding her young son. She is waiting for Abiyot, an Orbis-trained Integrated Eye Care Worker, to perform trachoma surgery on both eyes.

Malate explains: “For more than a year I’ve been suffering with this eye problem. It started with tearing, then throbbing eye pain."

Repeated trachoma infections have caused severe scarring on the inside of Malate's eyelids, and her eyelashes have turned inward. Luckily, Abiyot is going to perform a brief surgery that will bring her eyelashes outwards and relieve her of what she calls “excruciating pain”.

Abiyot prepares Malate for surgery

Malate explains: "I thought I needed some money to go and seek treatment at the hospital – that’s why I didn’t go. I had no idea the treatment was given for free. I suffered for more than a year without knowing - I stayed at home instead."

Malate says Abiyot has helped her a great deal - they met during a community campaign about trachoma treatment and prevention. All of Malate’s community came out to hear Abiyot speak about an upcoming outreach programme.

Malate says: “When he passed through he saw me and he grabbed my hand, and he saw my eyes. He said 'what was I waiting for'? He told me to come to the health centre as soon as possible.”

Integrated Eye Care Worker Abiyot sits with trachoma patient Malate outside her home

Abiyot with Malate at her home post-surgery

Malate is separated from her husband, and, because of her condition, finds it very difficult to work. She and her two children live with her elderly parents, who support them. Before she is prepped for her surgery, she says: "I hope that the treatment will help. I’ll be very happy if I gain my sight again."

The surgery goes well, and Abiyot patches her eye. Four days later, when Abiyot visits Malate at home, the change is immediately noticeable. Home is a traditional Dorze hut made of woven bamboo, approached on a steep walk through lush green hills. She is talkative, playing with her two children, son Kenenisa, 1 and daughter Tejitu, 3.

Abiyot checks Malate’s eyes, and says they are healing very well. Malate says: "I had excruciating pain in my eyes before this surgery. It was very itchy and I had a lot of tears coming out and also a white discharge. It was very painful for me to cook food because we use wood, and the smoke would make my eyes really painful. Now I feel better, so it’s going to change.”


Trachoma patient, Ethiopia

Thank God I’ve had the surgery now and I feel bet­ter – much, much better!

Malate is overjoyed that she made the decision to finally seek help: “I was very happy when Abiyot told me that the surgery was given for free. I couldn’t believe that I was going to have my sight back.”

Not only is her pain gone, but having her sight back means that she make some changes in her life that will help her to become more independent. She says: “My job was, and still is, to pick the grass and sell it from our back yard. I also did some weaving – not making clothing, but to prepare the thread. I also pick wood from the forest and sell it in the market. Now that I have full vision, without any pain, I’m planning to plant potato and sell it in the market – and also barley.”

She adds: “I’m really happy. As you can see I’m really excited to start this new chapter, and I would like to thank Orbis, the government and everybody for helping me have this surgery for free. Thank you so much.”

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