The IECW protecting his community through a pandemic

June 2020

Temesgen is an Integrated Eye Care Worker (IECW) based at a health centre in Ethiopia. He was first trained by Orbis in 2012 and has been working as an IECW for eight years. IECWs are primary care nurses trained in eye care to identify and treat infections, TT and refractive error and to refer patients to district and regional units as appropriate.

However, in the past few months Temesgen’s role has changed significantly as – like healthcare professionals across the globe – he has had to adapt to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic:

“Currently, I am mostly engaged with coronavirus outbreak response activities. Hand in hand with that, we are also trying to continue providing primary eye care services for walk-in patients - and we will carry on providing the service until there is a shortage of PPE,” he tells us.

Temesgen explains that the pandemic has changed life in Ethiopia dramatically, with schools closed, transport restricted and gatherings prohibited: “For this [reason], we are not conducting any outreach programmes. Nowadays, patient flow to the health facility is poor. Unless it’s an emergency, we don’t have many sight related cases. However, we still manage any case in need through routine activities.

There is a shortage of PPE, so we haven’t carried out activities like TT surgery after the last TT outreach ended on March 28, 2020… At the same time, we are also being careful to avoid coronavirus transmission by avoiding crowding within health facilities.”

Temesgen and his colleagues have responded proactively to the pandemic, he tells us. “In this health centre, we have established case assessment and a case management team to handle the pandemic. Health Extension Workers and Health Development Armies have been assessing 20 households per day and reporting daily. There is nationally developed protocol regarding the outbreak. As per the protocol, the team checks on fever and asks for travel history during their household visits.”

Temesgen conducting eye surgery

Fortunately, when we spoke to Temesgen, there hadn’t yet been an incident of coronavirus within his community. But, he says, it could have a significant impact if it does reach the area he lives and works in: “This pandemic [could] strongly affect our community because most of us live a hand-to- mouth lifestyle - which is hardly enough food or money without working daily. Most people are at home now and it may lead to poorer productivity and product transfer. For this, it might affect our community [by] lowering their income, in addition to its direct health impact.”

Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure that everyone understands how coronavirus spreads, and things they can do keep themselves safe. Temesgen mentions that his training from Orbis has helped him communicate these messages: “Handwashing and personal hygiene is equally important to halt the spread of the virus - which well works for trachoma elimination as well. Now people’s awareness has increased in terms of social distancing and hand washing. [My training from Orbis] has helped, as both of them are communicable diseases. There are aligning messages for both.”

“My message to my community would be: Protect yourself from this pandemic by staying at home until we tell you to resume your routine activities. Wash your hands with soap whenever possible. If you do that you will save yourself and your family’s lives.”

At Orbis, we’re extremely proud of all the health professionals and key workers like Temesgen who are working tirelessly through this pandemic, not only continuing to save sight, but save lives.

We're looking forward to supporting IECWs like Temesgen to ramp up their sight-saving efforts as soon as circumstances allow. And you can help by giving a donation today.

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