Patients waiting for treatment at Debark Hospital, Ethiopia

Patients waiting for treatment at Debark Hospital, Ethiopia

Of Ethiopia's more than 86 million inhabitants, approximately 1.28 million are blind. Cataract, a condition that can be treated through relatively routine surgery, accounts for almost 50 per cent of this blindness.


The Foundation is beginning its blindness prevention work in Ethiopia through a partnership arrangement with the Austrian organisation, Light for the World - Christoffel Development Cooperation. Light for the World has an established presence in the country, and together we have launched the Simien Mountains Eye Care Project (SMEP) in the northern Amhara Regional State, 400km north of the capital.

With only 104 ophthalmologists in the country, the majority of whom are based in the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, access to eye health services is limited for people living in rural and remote areas.

Achievements 2013

  • In one of The Foundation’s most ambitious projects, we supported population-based mapping of trachoma in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, the country with the greatest trachoma burden in the world. In this region alone 200,000 people are at risk of going blind unless they have surgery
  • Trained a further 19 surgeons, 21 clinic support staff and 636 community health workers
  • Performed 650 cataract operations and 622 other sight-saving interventions, including 597 trachoma surgeries carried out by 10 newly-trained surgeons
  • Screened 180,184 people
  • Upgraded one medical facility
  • Delivered $69,952 in medical equipment.

We achieved these results working together with our partners.

About the Program

The SMEP will initially focus on establishing, equipping and staffing an ophthalmic unit at the hospital in the town of Debark. The Foundation is providing funding to equip the hospital’s eye unit, including the purchase of a static microscope, a portable microscope, and a range of other modern eye equipment.

The Foundation’s new program will focus on delivering vital eye care services at Debark district hospital, Ethiopia.We will also support the hospital’s administration to organise outreach campaigns which involve medical teams visiting villages in remote areas to inform the community about the new service, screen patients, and set up the referral process for surgery at the Debark Hospital.  

Whenever necessary, patients will also be transferred to the university teaching hospital in Gondar, about 100km from Debark, to receive any additional care.

The SMEP is The Foundation’s first project in Ethiopia and there are plans to increase support for blindness prevention activities throughout the country.

Facts and figures

Eye health
Number of blind people 1.28 million blind and a further 2.96 million with low vision
Main causes of blindness Cataract (50%), trachoma (11.5%), corneal scarring (8%), refractive error (8%) and glaucoma (5%)
Number of people with cataract blindness 638,720 (backlog)
Number of cataract operations performed annually 27,850 in 2009 (approximately 335 operations, per million people, per year)
Number of ophthalmologists  about 104 with another 46 cataract surgeons
Reasons for low cataract surgical rates and backlog  Lack of eye health infrastructure, consumables and equipment and a shortage of eye health personnel
Childhood eye health 9 million children aged 1-9 years with active trachoma
General health
Population   86.5 million
Urban population  17.7%
Life expectancy  59.7 years
Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 births)  68
Adult Literacy rate  39%
Population living on $1.25 a day  39%
Childred (0-5 years) underweight for age 33%
Number of doctors (per 10,000 people)  less than 0.5

Source: National Five-Year Strategic Plan for Eye Health in Ethiopia 2003-2007 EC (2010/11 – 2014/15), Government of Ethiopia, UNDP Human Development Report 2013


What we can do

Help keep Fred’s dream alive.

4 out of 5 people who are blind in the developing world don't need to be. Routine treatment costing as little as $25 can restore sight and hope.