Supporting Student Initiatives to Prevent Blindness in Ethiopia

This photo shows a boy washing his face at a water tank.

Misganaw Worku, 15, a student leader in the CBM-supported anti-trachoma club at Double Mariam Primary School, washes his face in Double Mariam, Amhara Region, Ethiopia, on May 19, 2017.
© CBM/ Hayduk

On 28 July 2020, we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation. This resolution, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010, recognised the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.

Misganaw Worku proudly exhibits the water tank in his school in a small village in Ethiopia. The 15-year-old oversees a hygiene project in his class, which is supported by CBM. The project aims to help eradicate trachoma - a highly contagious eye disease that can be eradicated through timely prevention. The bacterial infection is transmitted through direct contact with the mucous membranes or by flies and can lead to blindness if left untreated.

In these anti-trachoma clubs the students learn the importance of hygiene and its role in eliminating trachoma – simple actions such as washing their face regularly. The students also regularly clean the school toilets. This way, flies are not attracted to them and the risk of infection is reduced. In the province of Amhara, trachoma is more widespread than anywhere else in the world - more than 62 percent of the population is affected.

Wider knowledge transfer

As water is scarce, people use this precious commodity primarily for drinking and cooking. Regular washing is often neglected. Over the past years, CBM has been advocating for clean water for all. "The supply situation is poor, especially in developing countries," says CBM CEO Dr. Rainer Brockhaus. "Clean water must be accessible to all, including people with disabilities," says Dr. Brockhaus. "At the same time, it is important that people improve their hygiene behaviour to prevent avoidable disabilities. That is why education in schools is so important," he adds. In Ethiopia alone, CBM supports 204 school anti-trachoma clubs.

Students also play an important role as mediators as they transfer their knowledge to their families and villages. In this way, they raise the community's awareness of hygiene – and are thus the engine of sustainable change.

I didn't know about trachoma until last year, I was surprised, it is a simple disease prevented by hygienic practices and yet so many people here have it. I have told my family about hand washing and now they also improved their personal hygiene. I feel confident that if I keep up my hygiene, I will not get trachoma. I have a responsibility to my community. I am more aware of eye problems. So if I see someone with eye problems, I will inform my teacher and also tell them to go to the health post.
Misganaw, a 15-year-old student.