Global Trachoma Mapping Project
“The Global Trachoma Mapping Project is the largest infectious disease survey in history with the aim of eliminating the disease by 2020,” says BBC.

This initiative is led by Sightsavers, and has been active in 22 countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. It aims to uncover where Trachoma is most active so treatment can be focused there, eventually eliminating the disease by 2020 and meeting the World Health Organization’s goal to eliminate Trachoma.

Trachoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. Though it can be prevented through antibiotics, surgery, face washing, and a sanitary environment, today 39 million people suffer from blindness. 80 percent of these cases could be prevented or cured and 90 percent of these cases reside in the poorest region in the world.

In the early 1900s, Trachoma was endemic in the United States and Europe. Immigrants to the United States were thoroughly screened for Trachoma infection when the arrived at Ellis Island, and nine out of ten who were diagnosed were sent back to their original country. Trachoma has disappeared in Europe due to improved living standards, without the aid of antibiotics.

Today around 232 million people live in trachoma-endemic regions and are in desperate need of treatment. TrachomaAtlas estimates that 7.2 million people live with advanced Trachoma— where the eyelashes turn inward and scrape the cornea, an extremely painful condition. These individuals will be blind or visually impaired if they do not receive a simple surgery— something that Sightsavers, with the help of the Global Trachoma Mapping Project, aims to provide.

Trachoma is not a widely known disease— it is rampant in isolated, rural regions where people have very little to no access to healthcare and water. The Trachoma Coalition says that “In some communities, the disease is so common that blindness from Trachoma is simply accepted as a fact of life.”

Trachoma is known as a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD). These diseases are referred to as ‘neglected’ because they impact the poorest regions in the world as well as the world’s most vulnerable— remote rural areas, urban slums and conflict zones, according to SightSaver’s website.

Data from the Global Trachoma Mapping project has starkly illuminated that NTDS are just as impactful in terms of sickness, disability and death as more well known diseases (HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria). The need for information on where these diseases are most prevalent is dire.

The Global Trachoma Mapping project aims to also combine technology with medical research. Data is uploaded through smartphones onto a virtual Trachoma Atlas. Then, the data is instantly available for governments, NGOs, and other aid agencies to target treatment where it is most urgent.

The initiative began in 2012 and is funded by the United Kingdom, which has provided over ten million pounds towards the effort.

In 2014, Sightsavers implemented over 13.8 million eye examinations, over 296,000 operations to restore sight or prevent blindness, and helped over 9,000 children with disabilities attend school. The Global Trachoma Mapping Initiative hopes to increase these numbers through finding where the most vulnerable are and helping them.

Seven countries where Trachoma used to be endemic (Gambia, Ghana, Iran, Morocco, Myanmar, Oman and Vietnam) have claimed to have been in some stage of eradicating Trachoma as a public health endemic.

Margaret Mary Anderson

Sources: BBC, Trachoma Atlas, Trachoma Coalition, Sight Savers