Ending Avoidable Blindness by Treating Cataracts, Trachoma & Diabetes with Dr. Wondu Alemayehu
Dr. Wondu Alemayehu is an ophthalmologist and works as the global technical advisor for The Fred Hollows Foundation in Ethiopia. He’s currently engaged in a trachoma elimination program, as Ethiopia has the worst version of trachoma, and his life is dedicated to the elimination of this problem. He’s involved in research surrounding this disease, treatment for the condition, and prevention strategies. He would love to live long enough to see trachoma be eradicated.
He first became interested in this condition because trachoma is a disease of mothers and children. Mothers that are affected end up affecting their entire families and communities. Research shows that trachoma is a huge problem for mothers in the area where he works, and seeing the increased burden they feel pushed him into a love for treating this condition.
What is Trachoma?
Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of infectious blindness, and it is transmitted from one person to another. Mothers often transfer the active infection to their children, and dirty environments make transmission much easier. It can be transmitted from mothers to children, children to mothers, and to anyone else.
With worsening infection, the eyelid margins begin to turn inward and the eyelashes begin to scratch or rake against the front of the eyeball (the cornea). This is excruciatingly painful and is a huge issue because it causes ulceration of the cornea and eventually scarring. This scarring leads to blindness in many of these people.
We blink so many times per day, and each time these patients blink they have severe pain. Imagine a mother taking care of her household and children, cooking in a confined and smoke filled room, and she has to deal with additional irritation from trachoma. They’re not only suffering from additional pain and discomfort, but they also have a huge risk of blindness.
But this condition is completely preventable and, if caught early, these patients can avoid unnecessary blindness and pain and live a great life.
Current Treatment Regimen for Trachoma
The World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed an initiative known as the SAFE Strategy for the prevention and treatment of trachoma. This consists of eyelid surgery to decrease pain and prevent further corneal issues from occurring, antibiotics used systemically to treat the actual infection and prevent transmission, facial and personal hygiene is important, and environmental factors are also considered.
Not only are these patients in need of surgery and systemic antibiotics, but they need to be made aware of how important personal hygiene can be. Face and hand washing are extremely important, and the attention to hygiene has become easier during the COVID pandemic. However, they also need things like clean water and sanitary facilities because without those, it’s tough to maintain proper hygiene.
The Fred Hollows Foundation is currently running a huge initiative in Ethiopia to fight trachoma using the SAFE Strategy, and each component is important. Antibiotics alone are not going to eradicate trachoma, but the successful combination of all factors has the potential to do so. Research is ongoing on how to treat this condition and whether or not they should change the procedures they’re currently using. As stated before, it’s the hope of Dr.
Wondu that this condition be eradicated in his lifetime.
Another issue that the Fred Hollows Foundation holds near to them is cataracts. In previous years, cataracts were treated in developing countries by removing the entire natural lens of the eye all at once. The patient would then get a pair of glasses, but these glasses would be incredibly thick to make up for the natural prescription of the lens that was removed.
The foundation introduced the intraocular lens implant to developing countries, and this has been a welcomed change for both doctors and patients since no thick glasses are needed following surgery.
Diabetic Retinopathy Management
Diabetic retinopathy is a large risk for all diabetic patients, and proper eye examinations and follow-up are important. The foundation not only trains physicians but also strengthens the health system already present in the country so that the people there can better manage conditions such as diabetes. Support from all backgrounds is needed, including ophthalmologists, optometrists, and those who wish to donate funds.
If you’d like to learn more or donate to the Fred Hollows Foundation, check out their website. You could potentially be helping an entire country end avoidable blindness in their area, and support is always needed. You will be making a huge difference in the lives of individuals, communities, and countries that would continue to suffer without these donations.
About Dr. Wondu Alemayehu
Dr. Wondu Alemayehu is the senior ophthalmologist and technical advisor for the Fred Hollows Foundation in Ethiopia. He has dedicated his career to eliminating trachoma, the world’s leading cause of infectious blindness. Based in Addis Abada, where he leads a consultancy company, Dr. Wondu trains others, researches, and implements programs in the fight against trachoma.
Dr. Wondu’s work in the field began more than 30 years ago as a resident of the department of ophthalmology at Addis Ababa University.
Since 2012, Dr. Wondu has been assisting The Fred Hollows Foundation’s focus on the total elimination of trachoma. He has implemented antibiotic programs across the country, which in partnership with The Foundation, now covers 18 of the 20 rural zones of Ethiopia.
He contributes to the National Trachoma Taskforce, as well as the National Committee for the Prevention of Blindness, sharing his experiences globally while also learning from others.