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What is trachoma?

Trachoma is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness, and is part of a group of conditions known as neglected tropical diseases (often referred to as NTDs).

Aluna from Tanzania has her eyes checked for trachoma. They are visibly red and swollen.

The End is in Sight: our campaign to eliminate trachoma

About the campaign

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.

Watch the TED Talk

In April 2018, Sightsavers CEO Caroline Harper gave a TED Talk about trachoma, explaining how we aim to eliminate the disease.

More about the talk
42
countries count trachoma as a public health problem
157 million
people are at risk of going blind from trachoma
1.9 million
people are blind or visually impaired because of the disease

How is trachoma treated?

A child in Senegal holds Zithromax tablets in his hand.

Antibiotics

Zithromax® tablets, donated by pharmaceutical company Pfizer, are used to treat the trachoma infection. Treatment is usually repeated annually for three or more years.

Surgeons operate on a trachoma patient.

Surgery

Trachoma can cause the eyelashes to turn inwards. In severe cases, an operation stops the eyelashes rubbing against the eyeball, and halts the cycle of repeated infection.

A boy washes his face to prevent the spread of trachoma infection.

Cleanliness and hygiene

Communities are encouraged to change behaviours that can put them at risk of contracting trachoma, and are taught about the importance of face washing, hygiene and sanitation.

Want to learn more about the history of trachoma?

Read our trachoma timeline

What we’re doing

Our aim is to eliminate trachoma in the countries where we work, and this goal is now closer than ever: in June 2018, Ghana became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate the disease for good.

Yet there are still 43 countries that count trachoma as a public health problem. So in April 2018, Sightsavers CEO Caroline Harper pitched an ambitious plan to eliminate the disease during her talk at the TED conference in Vancouver.

We help to control the impact and spread of trachoma by implementing the World Health Organization’s SAFE strategy: the acronym describes the four methods used to control the disease.

  • Surgery: to stop eyelashes from rubbing against the eyeball and helping to halt the cycle of repeated infection that can lead to blindness.
  • Antibiotics: Azithromycin medication is used to treat the trachoma infection and reduce the spread of the disease. The treatment is usually repeated annually for three or more years.
  • Facial cleanliness: teaching local communities the importance of face washing, and encouraging good hygiene to prevent the infection being spread through contact with an infected person’s eyes or nose, or via flies.
  • Environmental improvements: to improve access to water and sanitation to reduce exposure and re-infection, and eliminate conditions in which flies breed.
Eye surgeon Dr Ndalela examines a child's eyes to check for signs of trachoma.

The End is in Sight: our campaign to eliminate trachoma

We’re on a mission to stamp out the disease by 2025, but we need your help to banish it for good.

About our campaign

You can help save someone’s sight

I would like to make a donation

Could protect 180 people from blinding trachoma.

Could pay for an operation to treat advanced trachoma.

Could protect 720 people from blinding trachoma.

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Could protect 75 people from blinding trachoma.

Could pay for an operation to treat advanced trachoma.

Could pay for two operations to treat advanced trachoma.

$
We're sorry, but the minimum donation we can take is $3
We're sorry, but we cannot process a donation of this size online. Please contact us on [email protected] for assistance donating over $15,000

More about trachoma

A riverbed with green bushes and trees at its edges.
Sightsavers blog

How field surveys can help us fight trachoma

In February 2017, Sightsavers supported our partners with the ambitious task of conducting field surveys for trachoma in Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi.

Trachoma patient Amadu Asama from Ghana is surrounded by her grandchildren following her successful operation.
sightsavers_news

BBC invites Sightsavers to discuss trachoma elimination

Sightsavers Director of Neglected Tropical Diseases Simon Bush was invited onto the radio programme to talk about whether the end is in sight for trachoma.

Asha Ahmed takes her medication as part of the mass drug administration project in Darfur, Sudan.
Sightsavers from the field

Bringing hope to Darfur: how mass drug administration is tackling trachoma

As a young man, my memories of Darfur are of it being one of the most beautiful areas of Sudan. Yet the situation changed quite quickly – almost overnight.

Learn how we’re fighting disease