Three Countries Announce Elimination of Blinding Trachoma
at Meeting of Alliance for the Global Elimination
of Blinding Trachoma
July 20, 2009
For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Carter Center: Emily Staub 404-420-5126
ITI: Geoffrey Knox 212-229-0540
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND....At a meeting of the World Health Organization's (WHO) global partnership on eye disease — the Alliance for the Global Elimination of Blinding Trachoma by the Year 2020 (GET 2020) — Ghana, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia reported that they have reached the goal for eliminating blinding trachoma. Each country has also strengthened its health care system so it can deliver eye surgery for those in need.
The three countries used the WHO-recommended SAFE strategy in achieving this result, joining the Islamic Republic of Iran, Morocco, and Oman, who announced similar progress three years ago. The SAFE strategy is a comprehensive public health action that includes four actions: Surgery for the affected eyelid, Antibiotics to treat the infection, Facial cleanliness, and Environmental improvements. Implemented comprehensively, the SAFE strategy can prevent all cases of blindness from trachoma.
In partnership with national programs and paired with health education, a historic re-commitment was also made today by global pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc.
"Pfizer is a committed partner in the international effort to eliminate blinding trachoma and we will continue to work through the International Trachoma Initiative at the Task Force for Global Health to provide the Zithromax necessary to meet the 2020 goal," said Jeffrey B. Kindler, Chairman and CEO of Pfizer. "By working together we can rid the world of this disease and help restore the health and livelihood of families and communities." He congratulated the GET 2020 initiative on its progress to date and said: "To all of our partners, thank you. Hundreds of thousands of people owe their sight to your foresight and commitment, and I know none of us will rest until the job is done."
Pfizer has been a key partner in the fight against trachoma by helping found ITI and donating the antibiotic Zithromax ®, a long-acting antibiotic used to control the infection—the "A" component of the SAFE strategy. Over the last 10 years, Pfizer has provided over a billion dollars of pharmaceutical and financial donations.
"Rosalynn and I have seen the devastating effects of trachoma on people and their families, yet what is even more powerful is the amazing spirit and dedication of the world's poorest people fighting to rid themselves of a completely preventable disease. I applaud their strength and am proud The Carter Center is part of an extraordinary partnership working to ensure these neglected communities have the opportunity to reach their full potential," said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose not-for-profit organization The Carter Center supports the distribution of more than one-third of the word's distribution of Zithromax.
Since 1998, The Carter Center has been a leading partner in the implementation, refinement and delivery of the SAFE strategy assisting six African countries. Most recently the Center is collaborating with ITI and the Lions Clubs of Ethiopia to support the Amhara National Regional State in the distribution of almost 10 million doses of Zithromax as part of two integrated weeks focusing on malaria and trachoma.
United by a common resolve to drastically reduce the devastating effects of blinding trachoma in some of the poorest countries of the world, representatives from government and non-governmental organizations are meeting from July 20 to 23 at WHO in Geneva. They are reporting on the progress of their partnerships and renewing their commitment to achieve the goal set by the World Health Assembly in 1998 to end preventable blindness by the year 2020.
Trachoma affects the poorest and most remote rural communities of 56 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Australia, and the Middle East. The estimated number of people affected by trachoma has fallen over the past decade, standing at approximately 40 million people today. Still there are an estimated 8.2 million people with the late, blinding stage of the disease, who need eyelid surgery to avoid irreversible blindness.
"The progress reported by the three countries here at GET 2020 is encouraging, especially with Ghana now the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem," said Dr. Danny Haddad, Director of ITI. "The renewed commitment from Pfizer is equally exciting as our top priority at ITI is to make sure that the necessary Zithromax is distributed on time and in the right quantity to partner countries. The continuing proof that the SAFE strategy works means that the global trachoma community can strengthen our fight against the disease and take full advantage of new opportunities to integrate the SAFE approach with other Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)."
Trachoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness. Trachoma originates from an eye infection that is spread from person to person. It is frequently passed from child to child and from child to mother within the family, especially in environmental conditions of water shortages, flies, and crowded households. Through the discharge from an infected person's eyes, trachoma is passed on by hands, on clothing, or by flies that land on the person's face. Infections often begin during infancy or childhood and become chronic.
If left untreated, these infections eventually cause the eyelid to turn inward which in turn causes the eye lashes to rub on the eyeball, resulting in intense pain and scarring of the front of the eye. This ultimately leads to irreversible blindness, typically beginning between ages 30-40 and often resulting in deepening poverty for individuals and their families.
Women are blinded about twice as often as men , probably due to their close contact with infected children, and are therefore most in need of surgical services, access to antibiotics, education, and environmental improvements such as water and sanitation.
The Alliance for the Global Elimination of Blinding Trachoma
Launched under WHO's leadership in 1997, the Alliance for the Global Elimination of Blinding Trachoma by the Year 2020 is a partnership formed to support country implementation of the SAFE strategy. The Alliance is led by WHO and open to members from all sectors public, nongovernmental and private — willing to work with governments to implement the SAFE strategy. Alliance members include WHO, national governments, nongovernmental organizations research institutions, foundations, and the pharmaceutical industry.
1 Cromwell et al: Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene,
"Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope."
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers in developing nations to increase crop production. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide. Please visit www.cartercenter.org to learn more about The Carter Center.
The International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) is a non-governmental organization working to prevent, treat and ultimately eliminate blinding trachoma. With programs in 18 countries in Africa and Asia, ITI is a major proponent and facilitator of the SAFE strategy to prevent and eliminate trachoma through Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvement. ITI was created through a public-private partnership of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and Pfizer Inc, and is now a program of the Task Force for Global Health. ITI collaborates with international agencies, governmental, and non-governmental organizations to build targeted support—including Zithromax® donated by Pfizer—for expanded implementation of the SAFE strategy, operational research and program evaluation, education and advocacy. http://www.trachoma.org