For the past 15 years the Eye Bank of Ethiopia has worked tirelessly to reverse corneal blindness in the country through the collection and processing of donor corneas. Founded through an agreement between the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, Addis Ababa City Administration Health Bureau and Orbis International Ethiopia, the Eye Bank was inaugurated by former President Girma Woldegiorgis in a celebratory event on June 28, 2003. During this historic event, former President Girma not only inaugurated the Eye Bank, but pledged his corneas upon death to raise awareness and encourage donations.
According to a national blindness study released in 2006, it was estimated that 300,000 Ethiopians were blind due to corneal scarring. Initially when the Eye Bank formed, there were no corneal transplant surgeons trained in the country. So Orbis, the first INGO in Ethiopia to focus on sight restoration, helped blaze the trail for the Eye Bank to be the first cornea transplant facility of any kind in Ethiopia.
In 2011, an agreement was signed between Orbis, SightLife and Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP) to expand on the foundation and work built by Orbis. Through this partnership, SightLife was able to increase the quality and capacity of the Eye Bank through human resources support, project development and quality accreditations on standards of donor eligibility, tissue recovery, processing storage, tissue evaluation and distribution. HCP has worked to strengthen training opportunities in the cornea subspecialty field for ophthalmic professionals at all levels, including training abroad and in-country workshops throughout Ethiopia.
Through a culmination of efforts among Orbis, SightLife and HCP, the Eye Bank’s capacity and impact have grown. From 2003 to 2017 the Eye Bank successfully distributed 1,818 corneas for transplant, and out of these 1,192 transplants were done in the last six years following its partnership with SightLife and HCP. So far in 2018, 144 corneas have been transplanted.
Currently, the Eye Bank provides advocacy for donations, professional development for cornea specialists, care to those suffering from corneal blindness and human resource capacity building – continuing its uncompromising mission to strengthen Ethiopia’s eye care system. Together, Orbis, SightLife, HCP and the Eye Bank will continue to be grounded in a commitment to work diligently to reduce the number of Ethiopians affected by corneal blindness. Please join us as we celebrate this milestone for the Eye Bank and Ethiopia!