Stressing Global Awareness Improves Prevention of Infectious Diseases
Patient Safety Ansha, a 28-year-old mother of two with a third on the way retraces her experience with a harrowing eye infection — a shockingly common story in northern Ethiopia.
Several years ago, Ansha started to experience pain in her eyes. Locals call it “Eyemaze” (itching eye) or “Manskel” (removing of the eye lashes), since that is seemingly the only reprieve from pain. Villagers don’t know this disease already carries a medically-recognized name, that it is highly infectious, or how it can cause permanent blindness.
Ansha had trachoma trichiasis. The Amhara Region of Ethiopia, where Ansha and her family live, is also home to 30 percent of all trachoma cases worldwide.
About the disease
Trachoma trichiasis is a highly infectious disease and the leading cause of blindness in this part of the world. The disease, caused by the chlamydia trachomatis bacteria, is transmitted through flies that have come in contact with infected eyes, or hand-to-eye contact from someone who is infected.
What starts off as an inflammation of the eyes, a little itchy and a little red, turns into a quite painful infection that can lead to visual impairments or irreversible blindness. This happens slowly over time, as the eyelid starts to turn inward, causing the eyelashes to scrape over the eye. These scratches lead to permanent damage.
The pain this disease causes is so horrendous that those afflicted would rather rip out their eyelashes one at a time than deal with the pain. However, when caught in time there is a surgery that can stop the disease. It can only be conducted on one eye at a time, takes 20 minutes, and is performed under local anesthesia, meaning patients are back home able to tend to their family as needed.
“Because of the high cost associated with surgery and medicine in that part of the world, not many people are able to get proper treatment.”
No one is immune
Thanks to the quick action of the health workers in northern Ethiopia, Ansha’s surgery was successful and she has regained vision in her right eye. Once healed completely, she hopes to undergo surgery in her left eye. She is one of the lucky ones. Because of the high cost associated with surgery and medicine in that part of the world, not many people are able to get proper treatment.
All over the world, including the United States, people die every day from infectious diseases. In 2013, more than 19 million Americans reportedly visited a doctor due to an infectious disease, while millions died.
Government health workers can educate local villagers on what has been coined the SAFE strategy for preventing this and other infectious diseases. SAFE (Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness, Environment) means understanding about infectious disease, and how to proactively prevent the spread to family and neighbors.
For Ansha and others like her, this means learning about washing your hands and face regularly, separating the animals from the living quarters, and having more sanitary toilets. For North Americans, this might not seem like a stretch, but in northern Ethiopia, in Ansha’s village, clean water is in short supply.
It’s also important to note that with every surgery, even 20-minute surgeries like these, there are risks involved. However, when you are operating in a part of the world where clean water is not available at the push (or swipe) of a button, and flies carry with them some of the worst bacteria imaginable, the risks involved of even the simplest surgeries are exponentially worse.
Increasing education, accessibility to treatment and encouraging more people to donate money and blood are the best ways to help save more lives like Ansha’s around the world, including right here in the United States.