Trachoma is one of the oldest known infectious diseases. A bacterial disease, trachoma is spread easily through contact with eye discharge of infected individuals and through transmission by flies attracted to eye discharge. After years of repeated infection, the inside of the eyelid may be scarred so severely that the eyelid turns inward and the lashes rub on the eyeball, scarring the cornea. This results in a slow and painful process toward complete blindness. Children and women are most susceptible to trachoma.
Trachoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide leading to irreversible blindness in about 8 million people, with another 84 million cases of active disease in need of treatment. Another 500 million are at-risk for becoming infected with the disease. Trachoma is primarily found in the poorest and most remote areas of Africa, Asia, South and Central America, the Middle East and Australia, where sub-optimal sanitation and hygienic practices are most common. Trachoma often occurs in clusters, infecting entire families and communities for generations. This painful and debilitating disease can therefore greatly damage the economic well-being of communities, leaving them trapped in the cycle of poverty.
International efforts to treat and eliminate trachoma follow the WHO-developed “SAFE” strategy. This evidence-based strategy has four components:
S: Surgery, to reverse trichiasis (the late, blindness-causing stage of the disease when the eyelashes turn inwards and rub on the cornea);
A: Antibiotics (Azithromycin, Zithromax©), to treat active infection of the disease;
F: Facial cleanliness, to increase personal hygiene and thus reduce the opportunities for disease transmission; and
E: Environmental change, to improve access to water and sanitation.
Lions are very active in the fight against trachoma. LCIF’s SightFirst program has awarded more than US$47 million to The Carter Center, a leader in combating trachoma. Since 1999, LCIF has awarded US$20.5 million for 26 trachoma control projects in Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nepal, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. Ethiopia alone has received more than US$7 million in funding since it is the most endemic country in the world for the disease. Through these efforts, SightFirst has achieved the following accomplishments in fighting trachoma:
- 1,259 surgeons have been trained to carry out trichiasis surgeries.
- 406,842 trichiasis surgeries have been completed.
- LCIF and Local Lions helped distribute more than 72 million doses of Zithromax© (donated by Pfizer).
- 34,000 villages received health education related to personal hygiene.
- 2,190,828 latrines and water wells have been built in Ethiopia, Mali, Niger and Sudan.
Trachoma will continue to remain a priority of SightFirst. The top priority for trachoma project funding is the provision of sight-saving trichiasis surgeries that are a part of an integrated SAFE program and meet the standards of a country’s national blindness prevention plan.
In general, SightFirst projects must focus on the major causes of blindness on national or large regional levels. These projects reach populations who are underserved or who have limited or no access to eye health care services. The program funds high-quality, sustainable projects that deliver eye care services, develop infrastructure, train personnel and/or provide rehabilitation and education in underserved communities.