Global survey to identify 180 million at risk of blinding disease begins in Ethiopia today
Global efforts to eliminate the most common infectious cause of blindness in the world took an ambitious step forward today as mapping of the disease trachoma began in Ethiopia. The global survey, funded by the UK government, aims to see a sample of four million people across more than 30 countries examined by March 2015 to identify where people are living at risk from this neglected tropical disease (NTD) and where treatment programmes are needed.
The blinding disease is already known to affect more than 21 million people1 but it is estimated that an additional 180 million people worldwide2 live in areas where trachoma is highly prevalent and are at risk of going blind. Supported by the UK government, a consortium of the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), other NGOs and academic institutions, led by Sightsavers, will carry out the mapping in more than 30 of the world’s poorest countries, including over one third of African countries, in the next three years.
The first survey started this week in Oromia, in central Ethiopia, where 22 million people live in suspected endemic areas. Five-year-old Bigiltuu Kefeni, and her family from Keta Town in the region were among the first of four million people to be examined by a specially trained ophthalmic nurse. The availability of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in their village was also recorded, with all data captured on a smart phone. The remaining affected districts in Oromia will be mapped in the coming months and results uploaded to the open-access disease maps via www.trachomaatlas.org.
ITI and The Fred Hollows Foundation are supporting Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health to deliver the programme in Ethiopia. Dr Danny Haddad, director of the ITI commented: “It is exciting to launch this global survey in Ethiopia. Blinding trachoma has a devastating personal and economic impact on people living in some of the world’s poorest countries. By working with a group of NGOs with trachoma expertise, the consortium is bringing together the best available resources for planning, implementation and research to achieve maximum impact with our mapping.”
Dr Anthony Solomon, Senior Lecturer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Chief Scientist for the mapping project, said: "Ethiopia may be the country most profoundly affected by this cruel disease, so I am delighted that we are starting this ambitious project here.The completion of the mapping of this region, Ethiopia and ultimately all endemic countries will mean the scale of the problem can be understood and it will be clear exactly where trachoma is putting people at risk of blindness so that the resources can be mobilised to enable us to end this dreadful condition.”
Trachoma, caused by a bacterial infection,is a significant public health threat in the developing world and is confirmed endemic in 53 countries3. It is a disease of poverty that mainly affects women and children who live in hot, dry and dusty areas where there is a lack of water and sanitation. Repeated infections, if untreated, can lead to blindness.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which has resolved to eliminate the disease by 2020, has developed a proven method to treat and prevent trachoma - the SAFE strategy4 - that is already being used in many countries. The global mapping project is part of the UK’s commitment to the global push towards the elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and the first critical step towards the end of this specific disease.
For further press information, including case studies, pictures and factsheets, or interviews with spokespeople from Sightsavers, ITI or The Fred Hollows Foundation please contact the Sightsavers media team on 01444 446754, firstname.lastname@example.org. For media enquiries out of hours, please call 07775 928253.
1. WER 27 April 2012, “Global WHO Alliance for the Elimination of Blinding Trachoma by 2020”, available at http://trachoma.org//sites/default/files/Mariotti.WER_.2012.pdf
2. WHO 2010, “Working to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases”, WHO report on neglected tropical diseases, available at http://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/en/
3. WER 27 April 2012, “Global WHO Alliance for the Elimination of Blinding Trachoma by 2020”, available at http://trachoma.org//sites/default/files/Mariotti.WER_.2012.pdf
4. International Trachoma Initiative, http://www.trachoma.org/safe-strategy
About the Consortium:
£10.6 million is being provided by the UK government to support the mapping of trachoma in over 30 developing countries by March 2015.
The current members of the consortium are The Carter Center, CBM, Fred Hollows Foundation, Helen Keller International (HKI), Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology (KCCO), Organisation pour la Prévention de la Cécité (OPC), Sightsavers, ITI, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and WaterAid.
Sightsavers is a registered UK charity (Registered charity numbers 207544 and SC038110) that works in more than 30 developing countries to prevent blindness, restore sight and advocate for social inclusion and equal rights for people who are blind and visually impaired. www.sightsavers.org
About International Trachoma Initiative (ITI):
The International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) was founded in 1998 in response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) call to eliminate blinding trachoma by 2020 (GET2020). ITI’s founding partners, Pfizer and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, saw the need for an international nongovernmental organization dedicated solely to the elimination of blinding trachoma. To achieve that goal, ITI collaborates with governmental and nongovernmental agencies at the local, national and international levels to implement the WHO-recommended SAFE strategy for trachoma control (Surgery; Antibiotics—using donated Zithromax®; Facial cleanliness; and Environmental improvement). www.trachoma.org
About The Fred Hollows Foundation:
The Fred Hollows Foundation is an Australian based International eye health organisation inspired by the work of the late Professor Fred Hollows (1929–1993). The Foundation is committed to developing sustainable, comprehensive eye health programs in developing countries around the globe - and to improving the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians.
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