To mark World Health Day on Saturday 7 April, Sightsavers is celebrating the work being done to eliminate trachoma – one of the greatest success stories in global health.
Trachoma, the world’s biggest infectious cause of blindness, could be just years away from being completely eliminated following collaborative work by a global alliance.
More than 182 million people are currently at risk of going blind from the painful eye disease, which blights the world’s poorest communities, yet it is preventable and treatable. The disease can prevent children learning at school, stop parents from going to work and trap whole communities in a cycle of poverty.
In recent years there has been significant progress towards trachoma elimination. In 2012, Oman became the first country to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem. This was followed by Morocco, which eliminated the disease in 2016, followed by Mexico, Cambodia and Laos, which celebrated this milestone in 2017.
Another six countries are believed to have reached elimination targets: China, Togo, The Gambia, Ghana, Iran and Myanmar. Many others, such as Malawi, are on the cusp of reaching the surveillance stage: this final step towards elimination gives the World Health Organization a period of time to verify that the disease has been eliminated.
This progress is thanks to a collective effort and collaboration between committed funders, pharmaceutical companies, programme partners, ministries of health in endemic countries, communities themselves and local volunteers, known as community directed distributors (CDDs).
Alongside a network of partners, Sightsavers has been working to treat and prevent trachoma in Africa since 2001. We implement the World Health Organization-endorsed SAFE approach: the SAFE acronym describes the four methods used to control the disease.
- Surgery: providing surgery to people that have trichiasis (the advanced stage of trachoma). Since 2001 we have supported more than 379,000 operations.
- Antibiotics: distributing an antibiotic called Zithromax® in local communities to treat the infection. The antibiotics are donated free of charge by Pfizer. Since 2001 we have helped to provide more than 118 million antibiotic treatments.
- Face-washing and environmental improvement: encouraging face-washing and providing better access to water and sanitation to reduce the spread of trachoma.