A new initiative by the World Health Organization (WHO) has allowed access to antibiotics for those impacted by world’s leading cause of infectious blindness.
Almost eight million people are visually impaired due to trachoma in some of the world’s most marginalized countries. Five hundred million people are currently at risk of blindness in 57 endemic countries without proper trachoma treatment. The WHO estimates that approximately six million people have been blinded by trachoma.
Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. It germinates in areas with a lack of adequate access to water and sanitation. Trachoma is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, is highly contagious and is easily spread through the eye, eyelid, nose or throat secretions of an infected person.
A total of 85 million people were given antibiotic trachoma treatment, an increase of 63 percent in people treated with antibiotics between 2014 and 2016. Patients were treated with the antibiotic azithromycin, a medication used specifically to fight different types of bacterial infection.
“The availability of free and quality-assured azithromycin enables us to support countries in their efforts to save the sight of millions of vulnerable people,” Minghul Ren, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, said.
Pfizer, an American-based organization that develops, manufactures and markets prescription medication, donates the antibiotic through the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI). Working with the WHO and other partners, ITI manages distribution alongside other assistance for trachoma treatment.
In addition to an increase of antibiotic trachoma treatment, the period between 2014 and 2016 showed an 87 percent rise in the number of people receiving operations for advanced trachoma to ensure no further eyesight loss.
Kirk Engels, Director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, said that he found the number of people who were receiving trachoma treatment—both surgically and through antibiotics—is “tremendously encouraging.”
“We encourage countries to prioritize interventions and make the much-needed additional investment to achieve the elimination of blindness due to trachoma,” Engels said.
The WHO hopes to eliminate trachoma by 2020 using a pioneering public-health strategy known as SAFE. The acronym stands for:
- Surgery to correct trichiasis, the blinding stage of the disease
- Antibiotics to treat active symptoms of trachoma
- Facial cleanliness and good hygiene practices
- Environmental improvements through water sanitation in both the community and household to reduce disease transmission.
The implementation of the SAFE program increases the effectiveness of trachoma treatment. Good hygiene practices and environmental improvements are crucial to ensuring the elimination of the disease in affected areas. With this additional aid from Pfizer and ITI, the WHO should have cause for hope.
– Drew Hazzard