Our Work in Ethiopia | Orbis
Patient Aylito, who has a cataract, looks off to the side

Our Work in Ethiopia

Orbis has been fighting avoidable blindness in Ethiopia for over two decades. The Addis Ababa office, registered in 1998, was our first program office and currently manages our largest portfolio of eye care programs. Orbis Ethiopia focuses on trachoma elimination, training, governance, and health system strengthening in urban and rural settings.

We celebrated 20 years of saving sight in Ethiopia in 2018

The Problem

When we started working in Ethiopia in 1998, the population was around 65 million. More than two decades later, it has nearly doubled to 117 million.

The eye care situation in Ethiopia is one of the worst in the world according to the National Survey on Blindness, Low Vision, and Trachoma. It shows 1.6% of people in Ethiopia live with blindness, and 3.7% with low vision.

Cataract (50%), trachoma (11%), corneal opacities (8%), refractive error (8%), and glaucoma (5%) were reported as the leading causes of blindness. Likewise, cataract (42%), and refractive error (33.%) were reported as leading causes of low vision. Childhood blindness is estimated to have a prevalence of 0.1%.

These figures, from the National Survey, translate into a staggering 5.4 million people living with blindness and vision loss.

Success in Ethiopia

When Orbis began working in Ethiopia in 1998, there were only 54 ophthalmologists. That figure has now more than tripled to 170 ophthalmologists, saving sight across the country.

Thanks to our supporters, and the hard work and dedication of our local staff and program partners, in the past 23 years we played a leading role in:

  • Delivering 94.2 million doses of the trachoma-fighting-antibiotic, azithromycin, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region (SNNPR)
  • Achieving the elimination threshold for trachoma in 38 districts across the SNNPR, as of 2021
  • Conducting more than 190,400 trachomatous trichiasis surgeries
  • Increasing cataract surgeries from 5,000 in 1995 to 72,000 by 2017 (by providing training and support, and helping introduce new techniques that are now adopted universally across the country)
  • Helping establish 420 optometrists

23 Years of Impact

Orbis Ethiopia also played a leading role in developing:

  • 320 primary eye care units (staffed with 336 integrated eye care workers)
  • 10 secondary-level eye hospitals
  • Three tertiary-level eye hospitals
  • Five wet labs
  • Six optical workshops
  • Ethiopia's first child-centered eye care service at Menelik II Hospital
  • Two paediatric centres in Hawassa and Gondor

Impact In 2021

What's Next?

With your continued support, we can implement a model for comprehensive rural eye care that addresses critical gaps through capacity building, healthcare technology, and advocacy. We will train more community healthcare workers in all aspects of eye care, from awareness of services to identification, diagnosis, referral, and treatment.

We will look to eliminate blinding trachoma in Ethiopia by implementing the World Health Organization’s SAFE strategy (Surgery to correct trichiasis, Antibiotics to treat infection, and Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvements to limit transmission of infection). We will continue to help reduce the risk of blinding trachoma by training nurses to perform trichiasis surgeries at primary healthcare units, and building awareness by teaching community health workers, teachers, local women’s group leaders, and community leaders about eye health.

We are also committed to spearheading eye health research for policy and practice.

There is a critical need for more qualified ophthalmologists in Ethiopia. Currently there are only six academic institutions offering 25-30 residents in ophthalmology training each year - this is simply not enough to meet the needs of the population.

Orbis needs further support to train the next generation of eye health specialists. By investing in human resources and capacity building, trachoma elimination, rural eye care, ophthalmic training, and technology we know we can help improve the lives of millions of people in Ethiopia.


None of this would be possible without the incredible support and collaboration from our partners, donors, and supporters:

  • We are thankful to the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, for the honor of working with them to build a more resilient eye health service.
  • The Ophthalmological Society of Ethiopia who initially invited us into Ethiopia and have partnered with us ever since.
  • Through our trachoma elimination work we partner with: International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), Sightsavers, Vision Aid Oversees, Himalayan Cataract Project, WaterAid Ethiopia, the Carter Centre, Ethiopia Humanitarian Fund, World Vision Ethiopia, the BBC World Service Trust, Christian Blind Mission International, Light for the World, Amref Health Africa, World Vision, NALA Foundation, Synergy Habesha, Mekane Yesus Church, Pfizer, and others to implement the SAFE strategy.
  • Academic partners such as the Department of Ophthalmology at Addis Ababa University, Gondar University , Hawassa University, Jimma University, Saint Paul Millennium College, University of North Carolina and South Carolina University are helping us develop curricula to train the eye health professionals of the future
  • Ethiopian Cataract Association, Ethiopian Optometry Association, Ophthalmological Society of Ethiopia, Ethiopian National Association for the Blind
  • Additionally, the Ethiopian government’s regional health and education bureaus and the Ethiopian Science and Technology Agency.
  • We are grateful to our international funders at USAID, DFID, Irish Aid, Orbis Ireland, Orbis UK, Orbis Hong Kong, AIG, Clothworkers Nood Dubai, Izumi Foundation, Alcon, L’Occitane, FedEx, as well as the thousands of individual donors who make our work possible.
  • Local sponsors: Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopian Airport Enterprise, Civil aviation, Ethiopian Food and Drug Administration, Ethiopian Pharmaceuticals Supply Agency, and ChSA.
  • Over 100 volunteer doctors, nurses and biomedical engineers who have given their time and expertise to train and mentor the Ethiopian eye health community.

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