Leading eyecare non-profit Orbis today announced that they have reached 100 million doses of azithromycin antibiotics which have now been administered in Ethiopia, as part of ongoing efforts to eliminate trachoma by 2030 in line with World Health Organization goals.
In a symbolic moment, the 100-millionth dose was administered to six-year-old Hizkiel by Ethiopian government health minister Lelisa Amanuel (Senior Disease Prevention and Control Adviser to the State Minister – service and programs, Ministry of Health). Derek Hodkey, President and CEO at Orbis International was also in attendance. The dose was administered in Gacho Baba District, Gamo Zone, SNNPRS, Ethiopia. Local children performed a play during a celebration to mark the moment and community leaders blessed the giving of the historic dose.
Dr Alemayehu Sisay, Country Director of Orbis Ethiopia, said of the moment: "Today is a historic moment. We started by administering one dose of Zithromax in 2003. It has been a long journey to reach this 100-millionth dose 20 years later. So while the work continues, today has a special meaning to all involved in working to eliminate trachoma in Ethiopia."
The administration of the dose was part of a wider Orbis-led mass drug administration taking place in the Gacho Baba District. In 2022, Orbis and its partners distributed 3.4 million antibiotic doses for trachoma control and elimination within Ethiopia. This work will continue in the coming years to ensure that trachoma can be eliminated in the country by 2030.
Lelisa Ammanuel, Senior Disease Prevention and Control Advisor, Ethiopia Ministry of Health, administers the 100-millionth Zithromax dose delivered by Orbis in Ethiopia to Hizkiel on 9 May 2023. Also in attendance was Derek Hodkey, Orbis International President and CEO.
Trachoma is one of the world’s oldest infectious diseases known to humans, with ice-age skeletons from 8000 years ago showing evidence of the disease. If left untreated, it can cause extreme pain as eyelashes turn inwards, with scarring that ultimately leads to permanent blindness. 1.9 million people today are blind or living with vison loss due to trachoma. 125 million people are at risk and 42 countries are affected, yet nearly half of the people at risk in the world are in Ethiopia.
Trachoma is highly contagious, but it is easily treatable with antibiotics. 30 years ago in 1993, the World Health Organization endorsed the SAFE strategy to combat the disease in countries where trachoma continued to be prevalent. The SAFE strategy emphasises Surgery for eyelashes turned inwards, Antibiotics to stop or slow the spread, Facial cleanliness which prevents transmission and infection, and Environmental improvement, particularly for water and sanitation to reduce transmission of infection. As of 2023, the WHO have validated the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem in 15 countries with Malawi the most recent country to be confirmed in 2022.
A local community leader in Gocho Baba District, Gamo Zone, Ethiopia blesses delivery of the 100-millionth dose of Zithromax®.
How working in partnership in Ethiopia is helping to eliminate trachoma
Orbis Ethiopia was established in 1998. Mass drug administrations, as part of the SAFE strategy, began 20 years ago in 2003. A number of partners and funders through this time have helped make the vital work towards eliminating trachoma in Ethiopia possible including FCDO/DFID, Irish Aid, Sightsavers, the Qatar Fund For Development, Jersey Overseas Aid Commission, The Clothworkers Foundation, Euromoney, CIFF, The End Fund, as well as generous contributions from many other donors.
The 100 million doses of azithromycin delivered through mass drug administration has resulted in significant falls in trachoma prevalence across Southern Nations, Nationalities and People (SNNP), Sidama and Southwest Ethiopia Regions of Ethiopia. Out of 135 districts requiring mass drug administration, 48 districts have now achieved elimination of the active infection (Trachomatous Inflammation – Follicular (TF) to less than 5%) as per the WHO set threshold requiring no more mass drug administration.
Six-year-old Hizkiel received the 100-millionth dose of Zithromax® delivered by Orbis in Ethiopia in the work to eliminate trachoma.
In 2021, Orbis and partners performed more than 16,000 surgeries in cases where trachoma infections had progressed to trachomatous trichiasis. To date, Orbis has conducted over 217,000 trachoma trichiasis surgeries.
Good hygiene practices, such as face and handwashing, also play a crucial role in combating trachoma because of its highly contagious nature. That is why Orbis has supported the construction of communal and school latrines as well as protected water points in SNNP, Sidama and Southwest Ethiopia Regions of Ethiopia. Over the past 23 years, Orbis Ethiopia, in collaboration with local partners, has constructed a total of 130 latrine blocks with covered toilets, and installed 36 water points throughout communities and schools.