Trachoma starts off as a bacterial infection that’s a bit like conjunctivitis, and can be easily treated.
But if it’s not, over time it causes scarring to the eyelid that makes the eyelashes turn inward, so with every blink they scrape against the eye.
The disease thrives where there are water shortages, poor sanitation and infestations of flies. The pain is so intense that many people resort to pulling out their eyelashes to reduce the agony of blinking. Over time, if it’s not treated, trachoma can lead to blindness.
Trachoma infections spread through contact with infected flies and via hands, clothes or bedding; because of this, it disproportionately affects women and children: women are also up to four times more likely than men to be blinded by trachoma.
The agony and disability of trachoma can lead to a cycle of poverty, limiting many people’s access to health services, education and employment.