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Meet Teshome Gebre: Lion of Disease Prevention in Ethiopia

Teshome Gebre, the Carter Center's country representative for health programs in Ethiopia, likes to joke that he has been in public health service for what seems like 100 years. Yet, it's impossible to ignore the great joy Teshome has received from a lifetime dedicated to fighting disease in his native Ethiopia.

For nearly two decades, Teshome worked with the Ethiopia Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization's childhood disease prevention programs before joining The Carter Center's Guinea Worm Eradication Program in 1994.

Teshome's expertise in grassroots community mobilization and his fierce determination to fight disease has proven a tremendous asset not only to the Center's campaign against Guinea worm-particularly with his background in smallpox eradication-but also to its work combating river blindness, trachoma, and malaria.

Photo credit: Carter Center/P. Emerson

Carter Center expert Teshome Gebre has dedicated his life to fighting diseases including Guinea worm disease, trachoma, malaria, and river blindness.

"My driving ambition always has been to eliminate the diseases we fight because they cause so much unnecessary pain and suffering," Teshome says. "Sometimes people call Guinea worm, river blindness, or trachoma 'neglected' diseases. But the impact of these plagues on endemic communities is so great that I would hate to think these diseases could ever be neglected by anybody."

Under Teshome's country leadership, The Carter Center has helped Ethiopians make great strides in public health. Ethiopia has nearly eradicated the debilitating water-borne infection Guinea worm due in part to a reward system Teshome helped develop to encourage the reporting of cases. In 2009, it is believed that there were only 24 cases of the "fiery serpent" that once incapacitated entire villages in Ethiopia.

"At The Carter Center, we are not just donors or an organization that brings resources like Guinea worm filters or bed nets into a country," Teshome says, "We also are implementers, working alongside the national programs to identify strategies for achieving a goal and then partnering with local communities to implement the program."

The Carter Center's record of successful partnerships with the Ethiopia Ministry of Health led the government to invite the Center to partner in an ambitious project to combat malaria--the nation's leading cause of death-by blanketing the entire at-risk population of 50 million with long-lasting insecticidal bed nets.

Using the same community-based networks already established for Ethiopia's river blindness and trachoma control programs, The Carter Center expanded its efforts to include malaria control initiatives in 2006. The program successfully distributed more than 3 million long-lasting insecticidal in 2007 and implementation was then integrated into the existing trachoma and river blindness control programs. Recognizing that constant drug distribution campaigns were consuming a disproportionate amount of time, Teshome designed and launched twice-annual malaria-trachoma weeks to concentrate treatments, health education, and community mobilization into two short campaigns of massive scale. The last campaign targeted 9.2 million people for treatment and health education in a single week.

Photo credit: Carter Center/E. Staub

"My driving ambition always has been to eliminate the diseases we fight because they cause so much unnecessary pain and suffering," says Teshome Gebre who heads up the Carter Center's neglected disease work in Ethiopia.

As a Carter Center expert and Lion, Teshome has helped Ethiopians successfully battle two blinding infections: river blindness and trachoma. In 2009, alone, in Ethiopia, The Carter Center, in partnership with Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF), distributed more than 8.6 million treatments of Mectizan® (donated by Merck & Co., Inc.) to prevent river blindness and nearly 16 million treatments of ZIthromax® (donated by Pfizer Inc.) for trachoma control. Trachoma control is based on an integrated strategy that also emphasizes improving environmental sanitation to prevent trachoma. More than 1.2 million latrines have been constructed in Ethiopia since 2004 through a partnership between the Center, the Ethiopia Ministry of Health and LCIF.

"I face each new day with new challenges and new expectations," Teshome says. "Honestly, I consider myself one of the luckiest chaps in all of Ethiopia. I am in the fortunate position of seeing how our work is benefitting people all over my country."

Watch the Video: Millions Mobilize
in Fight Against Blinding Trachoma, Malaria >

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