Restoring Vision to Ethiopia
“This was an important intervention that helped to bring much-needed services to hundreds of people in a remote part of Ethiopia,” said Bayleyegn Birhanu, the IRC’s “Vision 20/20” program coordinator.
IRC teams collaborated with government staff and an external consultant to examine 318 patients during the clinic. The services were made available to members of the neighboring Ethiopian communities as well as camp refugees. Indeed, of the 318 patients examined, approximately 82 percent were Ethiopian.
Before surgery, patients underwent preliminary screenings. Those with minor cases of vision impairment were treated with antibiotics. The teams then carried out 73 major and 16 minor surgeries. All patients were booked into the camp’s general health clinic for follow-up appointments conducted by government nurses and IRC staff trained by an ophthalmologic consultant.
The IRC offered similar surgeries in other refugee camps earlier this year. In Shimelba, we treated 54-year-old Lemlem Baheta who had been virtually blind for 10 years due to cataracts. The day after her surgery, while the examiner was checking her eyes, Lemlem could not restrain a cry of joy: “Stop it, I can see everything!”
The IRC now runs a permanent vision center in Shimelba’s health clinic. Since its inception in June 2008, technicians have examined well over 300 patients. Another 150 have been treated with antibiotics and given vitamin A supplements, while 37 people have received minor surgery. Additionally, 144 patients have received free eyeglasses following thorough consultations with IRC staff.
The IRC has made special efforts to reach children, according to Mengistu Scundado, an IRC Vision 20/20 officer in Shimelba. Children under 10 years are particularly vulnerable to trachoma—they often don’t wash their faces properly and have difficulty keeping flies, transmitters of the disease, away from their eyes. The IRC has treated 1,678 refugee children and 387 local Ethiopian children with antibiotics while also providing them with vitamin A supplements in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines.
To help parents protect their children from trachoma, IRC experts have trained 24 social workers to talk to families about personal hygiene and provide options for treatment of eyesight problems. They also trained teachers to recognize vision problems in children and to refer them to the local health center.