Trachoma starts off as a bacterial infection that’s a bit like conjunctivitis, and can be easily treated. But if it’s not, over time it causes scarring to the eyelid that makes the eyelashes turn inward, so with every blink they scrape against the eye.
The disease thrives where there are water shortages, poor sanitation and infestations of flies. The pain is so intense that many people resort to pulling out their eyelashes to reduce the agony of blinking. Over time, trachoma can lead to blindness.
Trachoma infections spread through contact with infected flies and personal contact via hands, clothes or bedding; because of this, it disproportionately affects women and children. For women living in societies with traditional gender roles, trachoma leads to a further loss of independence and makes it extremely difficult to care for children and family members. The agony and disability of trachoma can lead to a cycle of poverty, limiting many people’s access to health services, education and employment.