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WHO announces progress on trachoma elimination

July 2017
A girl in Senegal is measured with a dose pole to find out how much medication she needs to take, as part of a mass drug administration campaign to prevent the spread of trachoma.

Trachoma is responsible for the visual impairment of about 1.9 million people worldwide

In 2016, 85 million people were treated with an antibiotic to protect against trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness, according to new data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Sightsavers helped to deliver about 25 million of these treatments, nearly 30 per cent of the total, and continues to work with partners to eliminate this painful eye disease.

Trachoma is an infectious condition that, without treatment, can develop into a condition called trichiasis. This can cause the eyelids to turn inwards so the eyelashes scrape on the eyeball, causing pain and even eventual blindness.

Trachoma is responsible for the blindness or visual impairment of about 1.9 million people worldwide. The disease disproportionally affects women and children, with women four times more likely to be blinded by trachoma than men. The pain and disability caused by trachoma leads to a cycle of poverty, limiting many people’s access to health services, education and employment. But for women living in societies with traditional gender roles, the burden of the disease can be even greater; trachoma can lead to a loss of independence, and makes caring for children and other family member more difficult.

Sightsavers works with partners to distribute millions of antibiotic treatments, donated by Pfizer, and deliver thousands of sight-saving surgeries to help eliminate trachoma, which, in turn, helps to transform lives and communities.

Medication was used to treat Hadiza’s trachoma.
Medication was used to treat Hadiza’s trachoma.

One example is Hadiza Ibrahim, who lives in the state of Zamfara in the north-west of Nigeria and received antibiotics to treat trachoma. Hadiza says: “I had blurred vision and I felt a sensation in my eyes, as if I had sand in my eyes. I used to really rub them – I was shedding tears and they used to produce some discharge. It felt like this for two years.

“I used to be labourer, processing the harvest and helping to process maize, corn, millet and beans. I used to do all that in the fields. That is why I wanted to have really good vision, so I could do all these things.

“When I took the medication I felt good. I had better vision, my eyesight has improved. I feel good now, I feel life is sweet – I feel more relaxed and happier.”

WHO’s announcement highlights some of the significant progress that has been made to eliminate trachoma, yet there is still more work to be done. Some 190 million people worldwide continue to be at risk of the infectious disease and it is currently a public health problem in 42 countries.

Sightsavers and partners urgently need the support of donors and endemic-country governments to commit to additional funding to help eliminate trachoma – and in doing so, enhance the health, quality of life and future wellbeing of millions of people.

If you would like to support our trachoma work, see our fundraising pages to find out how you can get involved.

You can also find out about the WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma.

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