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).

Trichiasis patient Edisa Nalubanga has her bandages removed after surgery.

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. 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
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.


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.


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.

Find out about other diseases we treat

Neglected tropical diseases

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 banish the disease for good.

In April 2018, Sightsavers CEO Caroline Harper pitched an ambitious plan to eliminate the disease during her talk at the TED conference in Vancouver.

Trachoma has already been eliminated in countries including Oman, Morocco and Mexico, meaning millions of people no longer live with the pain, suffering and blindness it can cause.  Yet there are still 43 countries that count trachoma as a public health problem.

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 basic sanitation to reduce exposure and re-infection, and eliminate the conditions in which flies breed.
Sayon smiling, she is sitting outside in the shade.

Sayon’s story

Sayon suffered for many years with trachoma, which caused her eyelashes to scratch against her eyes. Thanks to surgery, she is now free from this painful disease.

Read her story

You can help save someone’s sight

I would like to make a donation

Could protect 240 people from blinding trachoma.

Could pay for two operations to treat advanced trachoma.

Could protect two entire communities from blinding trachoma.


Could protect 100 people from blinding trachoma.

Could pay for an operation to treat advanced trachoma.

Could pay for two operations to treat advanced trachoma.


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.

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