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Making a difference

Orbis-supported integrated eye care worker in Ethiopia’s Dita district, Tsehay Tsambalo, discusses the role that she plays in helping to eliminate trachoma and give people their sight back

17 Oct 2019 by Tsehay Tsambalo

Prior to completing a training course to become an integrated eye care worker I had never worked in the eye health sector before.

I had previously worked as a nurse in a health centre in my home town. I decided to become an integrated eye care worker after I was selected for the training – it has since transformed my professional career. Being an integrated eye care worker has given me the opportunity to help people improve their vision and their life.

I completed training at Arbaminch General Hospital in 2010.

The training included both theoretical and practical sessions. The first week was dedicated to the theory and the other three weeks covered practical training, during which we were exposed to surgeries. During the training, I realised how passionate I am about helping people to regain their vision and get life back. The training in general equipped me with the knowledge I need and changed my attitude towards the provision of eye care services.

“Being an integrated eye care worker has given me the opportunity to help people improve their vision and their life”

As an integrated eye care worker, I am in charge of carrying out trachomatous trichiasis surgeries and patient consultations.

When I encounter cataract cases, I immediately refer them to a nearby secondary eye care unit. I also pay visits to the community to teach people about the importance of personal hygiene and promote face washing habits. However, the most important part of my visits is to identify people with trachomatous trichiasis so that I can convince them to come to the health centre to have surgery. The community visits sometimes involve a one or two hour walk to the village, but seeing people get their sight back is what motivates me to never stop what I am doing. 

Due to limited health care professionals based at the health centre where I am currently working, I dedicate two days a week (Wednesday and Friday) to trachomatous trichiasis surgeries and eye health care consultations with patients.

I dedicate the rest of my three days to other health care issues.

Patient and Teshey
Tsehay Tsambalo talking to a patient

The role of integrated eye care workers is very important in Ethiopia because trachoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the country and we work to treat active trachoma and carry out surgeries for trachomatous trichiasis.

For my part, in doing so, I am contributing to the reduction of the trachomatous trichiasis backlog in Ethiopia. I have done more than 2000 trachomatous trichiasis surgeries in my eight years since I became an integrated eye care worker.

In the years before Orbis’s intervention and the training of integrated eye care workers, a trachomatous trichiasis surgery service was not provided at primary eye care units.

Patients were forced to travel for hours to get the service at a secondary eye care unit, which was only found at zonal or at regional level. Nowadays, the trachomatous trichiasis surgery service is being carried out in a health centre, which is the lowest health post level. The health seeking behaviour of the community has also increased over time as a result. The prevalence of trachoma in the Dita district that I work in, in Gamo Gofa, for example, has decreased incredibly.

“I have done more than 2000 trachomatous trichiasis surgeries in my eight years since I became an integrated eye care worker”


The most rewarding part of my job is seeing my patients getting relief from the excruciating pain they have experienced for years through trachoma.

When I see them regaining their sight and how happy they become due to life-transforming surgery, it is my reward.

If I have the chance, I would like to specialise in eye health care and improve my knowledge.

I wish Orbis could facilitate a training programme that would allow integrated eye care workers to upgrade their career further. My aspiration is to see a trachoma-free Ethiopia by improving eye care service provision, increasing awareness in the community and improved personal and environmental hygiene.

Image credit: Orbis

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