Trachoma is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) and the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. It starts off as a bacterial infection, similar to conjunctivitis. But if left untreated, it can cause scarring to the eyelid, pulling the eyelashes inward, so that with every blink they scrape against the eye – which can lead to blindness.
However, trachoma can be treated and even eliminated. One of the ways to treat the disease is through the use of antibiotics, which help to control further transmission. But the journey of the treatments to the communities who need them most is complex, and to be effective needs the collaboration of a variety of partners.
From donations, to drug production, to the facilitation of mass drug administration (MDA) by community volunteers providing treatment takes coordination, hard work and commitment between hundreds of people. Sightsavers is proud to be part of this journey.
One family treated by ophthalmic nurse Jeremiah was the Muchimbas, who he met during an MDA in Binga, a trachoma-endemic district on the edges of the Kariba Lake in northern Zimbabwe.
Tawanda Muchimba’s children had symptoms of trachoma. His daughter, Blessing, sometimes missed school because of her sore eyes. “I’m so worried about Blessing and for the other kids who are exposed to the infection,” he told us.
The Muchimbas know the devastating effect trachoma can have as their grandmother, Julia, had the advanced form of the infection, known as trachoma trichiasis. At this stage, only surgery can stop the intense pain and potential blindness. Thanks to the support of Sightsavers and the Accelerate programme, Julia has received surgery.
Once people take the treatment, its journey is complete and families like the Muchimbas are protected against the disease. However, to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem, the treatment needs to be repeated annually for up to five years.
Thanks to the support of communities, the ministry of health, donors and a network of partners, the Zimbabwe National Trachoma Programme has been able to increase the number of people treated as they move towards their elimination goal.