Fighting avoidable blindness in a global pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has made preventing and treating avoidable blindness both harder and more urgent. Eye care services around the world have either been suspended or repurposed to fight COVID-19, opportunities for in-person training have been greatly reduced, and sources of income have been disrupted. In Ethiopia, where health systems were already under strain, the effects have been devastating.

The Impact in Ethiopia

The pandemic severely impacted eye health services in Ethiopia. 
From March 2020, Orbis partner hospitals and clinics remained open, only for emergencies and continued treatment of chronic cases, but operated limited services only. 
After months of restrictions, Orbis partner hospitals and clinics started to resume more comprehensive eye health services. But they faced challenges in adaptation, both in health facilities and in community outreach programmes, so they could operate in a Covid-secure manner. 
At this time patients were also unwilling to attend health facilities for fear of infection or were unable to afford to do so.
Typically, eye care requires eye health workers and patients to be in close proximity – so social distancing and infection control measures have made it costly and complicated to carry out eye screenings, treatments and surgeries. Our mass antibiotic distribution programmes routinely require people to congregate in large gatherings, which has been impossible. And, even after restrictions have been lifted, many people have avoided healthcare settings for fear of becoming infected. Finding solutions to these problems has demanded ingenuity, experience and resolve.
Orbis played a significant role in developing the Federal Ministry of Health's national Standard Operating Procedures, mandating PPE and house-to-house rather than clustered administration of drugs. 
These vital measures were time and resource-intensive but helped make sure we could administer antibiotics to entire populations, as required, while minimising the risk of coronavirus transmission. Despite not being able to start dispensing drugs until December, Orbis Ireland supported the delivery of almost a million sight-saving doses across the region of 3.4 million people. 
Amid the pandemic, Orbis was the only NGO to fully carry out our planned mass drug administration programmes to fight trachoma. 
On top of this success, during the final quarter of 2020, Orbis began supporting eye health facilities so trachoma trichiasis (TT) and cataract surgery and other services could be provided.

We couldn't do it
without YOU

Thanks to funds provided by our generous supporters we continued our vital work in 2020. 
We adapted eye health settings in line with guidance on social distancing, we gave staff the personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitisers they needed, and we developed new, COVID-secure ways to look after people's eye health.
Our eye care workers responded with determination and imagination. Overcoming fears for their own safety and the relentless demands of PPE and constant sanitising, they restarted work tackling major backlogs and undertaking laborious house-to-house visits to see people no longer able to gather in groups. 
2020 has been a challenging year beyond any of our expectations, not least because of all the people whose eye conditions we simply couldn't treat due to pandemic restrictions. But, thanks to our experience in infection control and technology, and the extraordinary efforts of our staff, volunteers and donors, we've been able to continue saving sight and transforming lives.