In just over a year, more than one million people across four continents have been examined for trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. This was achieved through Tropical Data, a service which supports national health ministries to collect data in the global fight to eliminate trachoma, a painful neglected tropical disease (NTD).
The latest Tropical Data milestone was achieved in the Chienge district of Zambia, where the one millionth person was recently examined for signs of trachoma. As well as working alongside ministries of health in 21 African nations, the service has also worked with countries in South America, Asia and Oceania.
In total, health ministries in 28 countries have used the service, which provides countries with epidemiological and training support, as well as data management and analysis.
As part of the Tropical Data initiative, teams in the field use smartphone technology to enable them to collect and transmit data more quickly, meaning results can be analysed and applied faster by health ministries. The technology means field teams in even the most remote and difficult environments can conduct surveys.
High-quality data plays an essential role in the elimination of trachoma. With the evidence generated by these surveys, health ministries are able to pinpoint exactly where treatment and support is needed. They can then implement the SAFE strategy, a public health approach that aims to control the spread of trachoma via surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness and environmental improvements.
Crucially, the data also highlights where interventions are no longer needed and success can be celebrated. Tropical Data helps countries to gather evidence for the World Health Organization (WHO) to show where they are free from the disease.
Trachoma is still a public health problem in 39 countries, causing blindness or visual impairment for 1.9 million people globally, but there are very encouraging signs of progress. The latest global blindness figures, published by medical journal The Lancet, suggest that the number of people at risk of going blind from infectious diseases such as trachoma is lower than expected, given the growing and ageing global population.
The WHO Alliance for Get2020, which brings together a diverse group of organisations, aims to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem worldwide by 2020. The Tropical Data service is just one part of this journey.
The Tropical Data team are a consortium of scientific, technological and implementation partners and work alongside ministries of health and other non-governmental organizations to deliver this vital service. The Tropical Data team includes:
- WHO, which sets standards, provides scientific oversight and protects country interests.
- ITI, which provides the core data management service, supports technology, and backstops fieldwork.
- RTI, which developed the technology behind the service and supports global training-of-trainers sessions.
- Sightsavers, which provides project management, logistics, budgeting and training packages.