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Huge increase in Tropical Data surveys means more people are checked for trachoma

October 2019
A male Tropical Data trainer shows female trainee how to identify what trachoma follicles would look like by using small, circular, red stickers with five white dots on their thumbs.
Dr Coulibaly, a Tropical Data trainer from Mali, explains to an eye health worker how to identify trachoma.

More than 700 surveys to track levels of blinding trachoma have been completed globally in the past year, enabling countries to focus on areas where treatment is most needed.

This marks a huge increase in the number of surveys being carried out, with the same amount of surveys being completed in the past 12 months as in the previous two and a half years.

The surveys have been carried out as part of the Tropical Data initiative, which helps countries to collect data as they work to eliminate trachoma.

Tropical Data, which follows in the footsteps of the Global Trachoma Mapping Project, has now reached and checked more than five million people for trachoma in some of the world’s most remote communities.

The programme aims to speed up efforts to achieve the World Health Organization target of eliminating trachoma by 2020 as part of the GET2020 alliance, with the help of global partnerships and collaboration between ministries.

The programme itself is run by a consortium of four organisations: the International Trachoma Initiative, RTI International, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Sightsavers.

Sightsavers operations director for neglected tropical diseases Tom Millar said: “The work of Tropical Data and partners is crucial in trachoma elimination. It helps country ministries of health to pinpoint exactly where to run trachoma treatment programmes. It also highlights where programmes are no longer needed, and helps countries gather evidence for the World Health Organization to show they have eliminated the disease.”

If the surveys show that trachoma is prevalent in an area, the national trachoma programmes can step in and plan work to eliminate the disease, usually using the SAFE approach. The acronym stands for surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness and environmental improvement.

Since Tropical Data began in 2016, it has helped to carry out more than 1,500 surveys in 41 countries, including Mali, where the 1,500th trachoma survey took place in 2019.

Sightsavers has been fighting NTDs in Mali since 1991 by distributing donated treatments to help prevent them from spreading. When initial trachoma mapping in the country took place, trachoma was endemic in all districts across the country. But thanks to Tropical Data surveys, and interventions such as SAFE, active trachoma has significantly decreased in the country.

A Tropical Data trainee checks the eyes of a young child for signs of trachoma, while someone enters the data into the Tropical Data system on a mobile phone.

The Tropical Data project

This large-scale project uses smartphones to gather data about trachoma, so treatment can be targeted as part of the global fight to eliminate the disease.

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