World NTD Day is an awareness day that highlights neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). This year, it will be commemorated on Saturday 30th January 2021. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “NTDs include several parasitic, viral, and bacterial diseases that cause illness for more than one billion people globally.

NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death, make it difficult to farm or earn a living, and limit productivity in the workplace”.

Trachoma is a neglected tropical disease we tackle. Trachoma is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the outer eye often experienced in childhood (ages 1-9). Without treatment, the infection could lead to irreversible blindness.

The Challenge

In Ethiopia, 40% of children between 1-9 years old have active trachoma and the country accounts for 30% of trachoma in sub-Saharan African countries, equaling 1.2 million people. Trachoma also affects more women than men, as traditional gender roles mean that women are still more likely to have a larger share of domestic work and child rearing responsibilities - children are the main carriers of trachoma.

Fighting Trachoma

Despite the pandemic, the Orbis team has been on the ground in southern Ethiopia responding to the trachoma crisis. Families in Ethiopia are receiving antibiotic treatment through mass drug administration (MDA) to prevent the spread of trachoma, the leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide.

The mass drug administration (MDA) hasn't been without challenges. Typically, we carry out one part of the MDA in June and the other in November. But the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant delays this year. In fact, the project was almost canceled. But because of the importance of eliminating trachoma, the Ministry of Health of Ethiopia approved the MDA. We began the distribution of the antibiotic in early December, and the project is going strong today.

To move ahead with the MDA during COVID-19, we needed to modify our procedures. All teams receive training on how to deliver the medicine in a COVID-safe manner. Also, each outreach worker is given personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep COVID-19 at bay.

Thanks to the support of partners and donors, Orbis has virtually eliminated trachoma in 24 regions of Ethiopia — but there's more work to be done.

The Goal

The Orbis team set a goal to treat 13.5 million people in 150 districts in the southern regions of Ethiopia. As of today, we are on track to achieve this ambitious goal. The antibiotic we are distributing is Zithromax, a well-known and safe medicine which Pfizer kindly donates. Pfizer kindly donates all the Zithromax the Orbis team needs to end trachoma.

Before entering a district, we complete an impact survey of the population. The survey's results give us an idea of the prevalence of trachoma in the area. If the levels are low, then we do not need to distribute the medicine there. We expect more than 30 districts will not need the medication due to the great progress made in recent years to end trachoma.

Eliminating Trachoma

As a major neglected tropical disease, our aim at Orbis is to eliminate trachoma in Ethiopia. With the right investment and planning, this NTD can not only be treated, it can be eliminated for good and provide a bright future for millions of people.

See how your support is helping us reach this goal by reading Belay and Kubri's stories below:

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