Eliminating a disease that has blinded people for thousands of years
Trachoma is an agonizing eye infection that causes blindness. It's also completely preventable. By focusing on strategic countries, Sightsavers plans to put an end to this ancient disease.
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Trachoma has plagued humanity for thousands of years, as far back as Ancient Egypt. A bacterial infection spread by flies as well as person-to-person, it robs people of their eyesight in the most painful way imaginable: the inner eyelid becomes scarred and turns inwards, causing the eyelashes to scratch the cornea. Trachoma is completely preventable, yet it still blights the world’s poorest communities. More than 182 million people are at risk.
Within a matter of years, we can reach a major milestone in the history of human health: we can stop trachoma from blinding people. Sightsavers implements the World Health Organization-endorsed SAFE strategy, which combines four elements: surgery, antibiotics, face-washing and environmental improvements. This approach treats people suffering from the disease, and also stops it spreading to others. By following this strategy and taking it to new areas, Sightsavers aims to free generations to come from the threat of blindness.
The world economy loses $8 billion to trachoma each year, but eliminating the disease will cost far less than that. Sightsavers has raised the funds needed to take on this ancient disease, and they plan to implement the SAFE approach in key countries where funding gaps are the only thing standing in the way of elimination. While Sightsavers focuses on these countries where elimination is within reach, it is also scaling up efforts in countries with some of the most severe need to make sure no one is left behind.
Why will this succeed?
Sightsavers led the Global Trachoma Mapping Project, the largest infectious disease mapping effort on record, covering 29 countries. The results of the survey will enable Sightsavers and its partners to direct resources quickly and efficiently. The SAFE approach has proved to be extremely effective in practice. Oman was confirmed trachoma-free using this strategy in 2012, and in 2018, Ghana — a nation where Sightsavers has worked with partners since 2000 — became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa for the World Health Organization to announce as having eliminated trachoma. Many others, including Togo and The Gambia, are now going through the WHO’s screening process.
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