Dawit Buda, MPH ’17, Tackles Blindness in Ethiopia

Alumni; Public Health; Research

In 2013, Dawit Buda traveled to the valley of the Omo River, one of the remotest parts of Ethiopia. He was there to design a collaborative public health program to fight the tropical disease trachoma, but he left with a larger mission.

“I realized that neglected tropical diseases are impoverishing, disabling and killing thousands of mothers and children,” he said. To strengthen his efforts to prevent these dire consequences, Buda decided to pursue a Master of Public Health at the Brown School. He returned to Ethiopia, his home country, following graduation last spring.

Now, Buda is the director of programs for Orbis International, the leading nonprofit working to reduce avoidable blindness in Ethiopia.

He leads a massive operation to eliminate trachoma, the leading infectious cause of blindness in the world. The disease is preventable and treatable. With simple interventions — namely surgery, treatment with antibiotics, keeping faces clean and improving environmental sanitation — trachoma can be eliminated.

In collaboration with health service providers, Buda’s team administers over 11 million doses of antibiotics and reaches about 30 million people annually. The goal of eliminating the disease has been reached in several districts.

“Our challenge is mobilizing adequate resources,” he said. “Orbis estimates that about 15.2 million people living in 112 districts in the Southern Ethiopia need to receive annual treatment for 3 – 5 years. However, due to lack of financial resources to support the elimination strategy, we are not able to deliver this much-needed blindness prevention treatment and service to millions of people.”

Buda said his training at the Brown School was instrumental in bolstering his commitment to improve public health, and to doing so effectively. His specialization was in Health Policy Analysis, and he worked at the Brown School’s Evaluation Center. His academic interest was understanding and explaining health disparities.

“The education system at the Brown School helped me to understand real-world and timely public health issues of local and global importance, and it equipped me with problem-solving skills,” he said. “It prepared me for evidence-based programming. Today I take nothing for granted; I critically analyze and ask questions about any intervention before I recommend it for implementation.”

He said the fundamentals of the Brown School’s MPH curriculum — transdisciplinary problem solving, leadership, communication, ethics, and analytical and conceptual competencies — prepared him for a “seamless transition” into a senior management post and have laid the groundwork for him to implement large-scale change.

“I want to see a world where no one is needlessly blind due to preventable causes,” he said, “and I aspire to become a global leader in this effort.”