Pfizer celebrates its 500 millionth trachoma treatment

November 2015

A lady, wearing bright red, sits on a bed with a young boy.

Pfizer has donated its 500 millionth Zithromax® (azithromycin) antibiotic tablet, used to treat blinding trachoma in countries across Africa and Asia.

The milestone was announced by the  International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), Pfizer Inc. and the International Coalition for Trachoma Control (ICTC), alongside plans to significantly expand the national trachoma elimination programme in Ethiopia, part of the goal to eliminate blinding trachoma by the year 2020.

Partners celebrating today are all working as part of the (WHO)-led Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET 2020). This Alliance is a unique collaboration of more than 100 governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private sector partners.

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health is also working with Alliance partners to significantly expand the number of people in Ethiopia, where the threat of trachoma remains at its highest. There are up to 75 million people in the country at risk of trachoma.

SIghtsavers CEO Dr Caroline Harper said: “Sightsavers is excited to be part of this huge public and private-sector collaboration, which truly demonstrates that by working together, progress can be made in the global fight to eliminate this infectious and blinding disease. Over the past five years, we have supported the distribution of more than 37 million doses of Zithromax across Africa.

“Three years ago, the UK government funded the Global Trachoma Mapping Project, the largest infectious disease mapping survey ever to be carried out. The project began in Ethiopia and as the global mapping nears completion, it seems only fitting that the 500 millionth dose is donated to Ethiopia, a country that has been a shining light in global efforts to eliminate trachoma.”

Dr. Paul Emerson, director of International Trachoma Initiative, the ICTC member organization that manages Pfizer’s Zithromax donation, said: “As we celebrate our great progress, it is critical that we remain steadfast in our efforts to eliminate trachoma from the lives of everyone it affects. We have the partners, tools and momentum to beat this debilitating disease, and we are driving toward 2020 with a sense of urgency and determination. Together we can help ensure that all people of all nations will never have to endure the horror caused by trachoma.”

Trachoma is an infectious disease that, without treatment, can develop into a condition called trichiasis. This can cause eyelids to turn in and eyelashes to scrape the eyeball, leading to large amounts of pain and even eventual blindness. Sightsavers and other partners are working towards eliminating trachoma by the year 2020 by implementing the WHO-recommended strategy called SAFE that combines:

  • Surgery to treat the blinding stage of the disease
  • Antibiotics to treat infection, particularly administration of Zithromax
  • Facial cleanliness to help reduce transmission
  • Environmental improvement, particularly improving access to water and sanitation.

This strategy ensures that the success of the antibiotic treatment is sustained through better standards of hygiene, while surgery makes sure those who are irreversibly blind are able to have an improved quality of life.

Learn more about Alliance for GET 2020 activities and join the online conversation by using #500MillionDoses.

Want to read more about our work?

Neglected tropical diseases
An eye surgeon examines a woman's eyes to check for signs of trachoma.

WHO: 74% reduction in people needing advanced trachoma surgery

People requiring surgery treat severe cases of trachoma, the world’s leading cause of infectious blindness, have declined from 7.6 million in 2002 to 2 million in 2020, according to World Health Organization data.

July 2020
A woman standing in a roomful of other people. She is covering one eye with her hand.
Sightsavers blog

How can Malawi overcome the final hurdle to eliminate trachoma?

We have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that no one is left behind, but if we can eliminate one NTD, we can then focus on eliminating the others.

Effie Kaminyoghe, July 2020
Fatuma from Tanzania laughing
Sightsavers Reports

Fatuma's story

Fatuma is a grandmother from Ruangwa, Tanzania suffering with advanced trachoma. We follow her journey from near-blindness to the chance to see once again.