Neglected tropical diseases day

Medical and eye health teams defy odds to deliver treatments for trachoma in Ethiopia, but millions worldwide risk return of disease amid UK aid cuts.

Ophthalmologists, nurses, and eye health workers in Ethiopia defied the odds to treat millions with trachoma-fighting antibiotics and surgeries - despite cuts to UK Aid assistance threatening eye care. This World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day Orbis, the international eye care charity, are celebrating the achievements of its medical teams who have been working in Ethiopia for 23 years.

More than 12 million people have now been treated with the antibiotic Azithromycin across 102 districts in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR) and the new Southwest Region, where the burden of trachoma remains particularly high.

Over 1.7 billion people live with Neglected Tropical Diseases, which includes trachoma – the world’s leading cause of infectious. Globally, an estimated 1.9 million people are blind or have vision impairment due to trachoma and women are most at risk of developing trachomatous trichiasis - the most advanced and painful stage of the disease.

Repeat and untreated trachoma infections can lead to trichiasis and 70% of those living with trichiasis are women. It can be addressed with surgery but faced with the difficult decision of which gender to treat in families, it is often women and girls – who are less likely to be working– who are left waiting for medical care.

Trachoma infection is easily treatable with antibiotics. The COVID-19 restrictions meant the Orbis Ethiopia team of medics and healthcare workers had to treat people face to face, doubling the length of time to treat the numbers needed to stop the spread. But despite this, in December alone, 9 million doses reached communities. And 16,000 surgeries were performed for trichiasis in 2021.

The achievements come a year after, the World Health Organization announced its plans to eliminate trachoma by 2030.

Dr. Alemayehu Sisay

Country Director for Orbis Ethiopia

This World Neglect­ed Trop­i­cal Dis­eases Day, Orbis is proud to join the WHO and more than 300 oth­er orga­ni­za­tions com­ing togeth­er to com­bat Neglect­ed Trop­i­cal Dis­eases. We know this work is inte­gral to the achieve­ment of Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goal 3 around good health and well-being. Our team has remained com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing to dis­trib­ute sight-sav­ing antibi­otics, even as we’ve faced hur­dles – from the pan­dem­ic to recent events in Ethiopia – because we know how restor­ing vision changes lives and communities.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a video to mark Neglected Tropical Diseases Day in 2021, announced his full support for the World Health Organization’s plans to eliminate trachoma by 2030. The Prime Minister stated there is nothing inevitable about the avoidable suffering of millions affected by Neglected Tropical Diseases. But the recent cuts to UK aid assistance will leave millions at risk of avoidable blindness and a rapid return or trachoma in Ethiopia and much of Sub-Saharan Africa where 35% of the global burden of disease resides.

Mr David Bennett

Director of Programme Support

If the UK Gov­ern­ment is seri­ous about elim­i­nat­ing Neglect­ed Trop­i­cal Dis­eases includ­ing tra­choma, com­mu­ni­ties can­not wait for treat­ment. Beat­ing tra­choma is a race against time and cuts to aid threat­en the effi­ca­cy of years of hard work. These inter­ven­tions can rad­i­cal­ly change lives. With­out them liveli­hoods are lost, chil­dren miss school and fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties’ risk being plunged into fur­ther pover­ty and iso­la­tion. While we recog­nise it’s a chal­leng­ing time for the UK Gov­ern­ment and that bud­gets need to be care­ful­ly con­sid­ered, we also know that 90% of the world’s vision loss is avoid­able with sim­ple, cost-effec­tive surg­eries and treat­ment. The UK Gov­ern­ment has his­tor­i­cal­ly been an impor­tant con­trib­u­tor to aid assis­tance, and we urge them to make pro­vi­sions for sight-sav­ing eye health in their forth­com­ing Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment Strategy.” 
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