Trachoma is an infectious disease responsible for 3% of the world’s blindness. The aim is to eliminate the disease as a public health problem by the year 2020. The International Trachoma Initiative (ITT) says that three more countries have announced that they have met the criteria for elimination.
Trachoma affects the poorest and most remote rural communities of 56 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Australia, and the Middle East. The estimated number of people affected by the disease has fallen over the past decade, standing at approximately 40 million people today. Nevertheless, ITT estimates that there are still 8.2 million people with the late, blinding stage of the disease, who need eyelid surgery to avoid irreversible blindness.
At a meeting of the Alliance for the Global Elimination of Blinding Trachoma by the Year 2020 (GET 2020), Ghana, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia reported that they have eliminated the disease. Each country has also strengthened its health care system so it can deliver eye surgery for those in need. Three years ago elimination was also achieved by Iran, Morocco, and Oman.
The success so far achieved is attributed to the use of the SAFE strategy: Surgery for the affected eyelid, Antibiotics to treat the infection, Facial cleanliness, and Environmental improvements.
Launched under WHO’s leadership in 1997, GET 2020 is a partnership formed to support country implementation of the SAFE strategy. The Alliance is open to members from all sectors – public, nongovernmental and private – willing to work with governments to implement the SAFE strategy. Alliance members include national governments, nongovernmental organizations research institutions, foundations, and the pharmaceutical industry.
Also at the GET meeting drug giant Pfizer, which supplies the antibiotic azithromycin free of charge to trachoma programmes, announced the continuation of its commitment to the elimination of the disease. Over the last 10 years, Pfizer has provided over a billion dollars of pharmaceutical and financial donations. The company contributes to elimination efforts through ITT, which is now a part of the Task Force for Child Survival and Development.
Another key partner in the elimination programme is the Carter Center which has is actively involved in implementation, refinement and delivery of the SAFE strategy in six African countries.
Many challenges remain, however, before global elimination can be achieved. Sudan is one example of a country where prevalence rates remain high.