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What is trachoma?

Trachoma is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness, and is part of a group of conditions known as neglected tropical diseases (often referred to as NTDs).

Trichiasis patient Edisa Nalubanga has her bandages removed after surgery.

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.

41
countries count trachoma as a public health problem
190 million
people were at risk of going blind from trachoma in 2016
1.9 million
people are blind or visually impaired because of the disease

How is trachoma treated?

A child in Senegal holds Zithromax tablets in his hand.

Antibiotics

Zithromax® tablets, donated by pharmaceutical company Pfizer, are used to treat the trachoma infection. Treatment is usually repeated annually for three or more years.

Surgery

Trachoma can cause the eyelashes to turn inwards. In severe cases, an operation stops the eyelashes rubbing against the eyeball, and halts the cycle of repeated infection.

A boy washes his face to prevent the spread of trachoma infection.

Cleanliness and hygiene

Communities are encouraged to change behaviours that can put them at risk of contracting trachoma, and are taught about the importance of face washing, hygiene and sanitation.

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What we’re doing

Between 1950 and the end of 2016, Sightsavers supported more than 332,000 operations and helped to distribute more than 90.4 million antibiotic treatments for trachoma worldwide.

We are working with partners to eliminate trachoma in the countries in which we operate by 2020. As part of this goal, we’re helping to control the impact and spread of trachoma by implementing the World Health Organization’s SAFE strategy: the acronym describes the four methods used to control the disease.

  • Surgery: to stop eyelashes from rubbing against the eyeball and helping to halt the cycle of repeated infection that can lead to blindness.
  • Antibiotics: Azithromycin medication is used to treat the trachoma infection and reduce the spread of the disease. The treatment is usually repeated annually for three or more years.
  • Facial cleanliness: teaching local communities the importance of face washing, and encouraging good hygiene to prevent the infection being spread through contact with an infected person’s eyes or nose, or via flies.
  • Environmental improvements: to improve access to water and basic sanitation to reduce exposure and re-infection, and eliminate the conditions in which flies breed.

Find out about other diseases we treat

Neglected tropical diseases

More about trachoma

A riverbed with green bushes and trees at its edges.
Sightsavers blog
Blogs / NTDs /

How field surveys can help us fight trachoma

In February this year, Sightsavers supported our partners with the ambitious task of conducting field surveys for trachoma in Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi.

7 year old Dorcas is standing outside, smiling. She is the one billionth treatment beneficiary.
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News / NTDs /

Sightsavers and partners celebrate delivering a billion NTD treatments

The billionth treatment was administered on Thursday 16 November to a seven-year-old girl named Dorcas, who was at risk of NTDs in Kaduna State, Nigeria.

An eye health worker shines a torch into Issa's eyes to check for trachoma.
sightsavers_news
News / NTDs /

More than a million people examined for trachoma

In just over a year, more than a million people across four continents have been examined as part of the Tropical Data initiative.