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40 Years On, Sudan Trachoma Worker Remains Committed

Abdalla Yousif recalls how heavy the rain was in Blue Nile state, Sudan. After four hours of torrential rain, the trachoma survey team he was traveling with decided it was best to spend the night in the car. The next morning, they did what they had done so often, they tested the road with their feet, pushed their car out of the mud, and continued to the next village.

Despite how difficult traveling in rural Sudan can be, Yousif feels it is his job to get to the people. “I even kind of enjoy the difficulty,” he said.

  • Abdalla Yousif examines the eyelids of a child during a trachoma survey in Sudan. Yousif has been working with the Federal Ministry of Health for 40 years in the fight against trachoma.

Yousif was born in North Kordofan state, Sudan, and completed his education at the Institute of Medical Assistants at the Khartoum Eye Hospital. Upon graduating in 1975 as an ophthalmic medical assistant, he began working on trachoma control. He remembers seeing his first case of trachoma in 1976 in Jazeera state. Since then he has remained committed to fighting the disease.

“The work in trachoma control is like your first love. You never forget it,” Yousif said.

Since 1999, the Center's Trachoma Control Program has worked in Sudan in collaboration with the government, nongovernmental organizations, and funding partners. And since 1976, Yousif has supported trachoma elimination efforts in two main ways. First, he serves as a trachomatous trichiasis (TT) case finder and assists with TT surgical camp outreaches. Yousif searches for individuals with TT so they can receive sight-saving surgery.

His second role is to serve as a trachoma grader for population-based surveys. Graders are trained to identify signs of trachoma so these surveys can get an accurate estimate of the burden of trachoma in each locality.

As a TT case finder, Yousif said that quite often people who refuse surgery do so out of fear. His strategy is to build a good relationship with people and to involve friends and community members in convincing individuals to accept surgery. He takes great pride in those he identifies and counsels for surgery. He remembers one individual with TT in both eyes, who, following Yousif’s advice, agreed to have surgery. That person has since graduated from a medical institute and is now able to provide for his family and for his village.

As a trachoma grader he has traveled all over Sudan. For these surveys he has climbed mountains, slept in villages, and worked with local translators to ensure quality data. He said that the trachoma situation was bad when he started working on it 40 years ago, but now it is getting better every year. He attributes this to increased awareness of trachoma, improved water and hygiene, and mass treatment with azithromycin. He remains committed to trachoma elimination, saying, “I will keep working to improve health until the last days of my life.”