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Carter Center Receives $30 Million for Blindness Prevention

Atlanta, GA...The Carter Center announced today that it has received the largest project-specific cash grants in its history - totaling nearly $30 million over the next ten years – from the Lions Clubs International Foundation and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The Center will work collaboratively with both organizations, and other partners, during the next five years to develop blindness prevention programs in 15 countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. This effort will affect more than 110 million people at risk of contracting trachoma and/or river blindness. Establishing large-scale programs to help eliminate trachoma in Africa will be a key focus of the partnership.

"Thanks to the Lions Clubs International Foundation and the Conrad Hilton Foundation, we are able to expand our fight against preventable blindness," said President Carter.

"This funding allows us to expand our efforts to treat river blindness in Latin America and Africa and to initiate programs to control trachoma, primarily in Africa. All of us involved in this innovative effort are committed to preventing unnecessary blindness in millions of people around the world."

Trachoma is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness. An estimated 6 million people are blind because of this disease, most of whom are women, and another 540 million – almost 10 percent of the world's population – are at risk of blindness or severe visual impairment. The disease is preventable through simple hygiene, such as hands and face washing. Antibiotics, including Zithromax, which is donated in select countries by Pfizer, Inc., also are effective in treating the disease. Ninety-nine percent of 146 million trachoma cases exist in developing countries, particularly in areas where water is scarce, such as Africa's Sahel region.

River blindness is spread via parasites that enter the body through bites from blackflies that breed in fast-flowing water. Victims experience constant itching – similar to poison ivy – skin rashes, eyesight damage, and often blindness.

The disease is preventable by one oral treatment a year of the drug, MectizanÒ, developed and donated by Merck & Co. Inc. It is estimated that 18 million people are infected with river blindness and that 120 million are at risk. Ninety-nine percent of all cases occur in Africa. The Carter Center began fighting river blindness in 1987 and initiated field operations to fight the disease in Africa and Latin America in 1996.

Efforts to battle these diseases globally will include working closely with ministries of health, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), international agencies, and other appropriate partners to develop community-based health education programs and drug distribution systems.

Jim Ervin, president of Lions Clubs International whose Foundation is donating $16 million over five years, stated that "Since 1996, Lions members have provided hands-on assistance to Carter Center efforts in Africa. Last year alone, 67 percent of treatments provided through the Center's river blindness program were carried out in partnership with Lions clubs in Nigeria and Cameroon, and through special support for activities in Sudan. We are very proud to now contribute to this expanded initiative both financially and through local Lions support.

President Carter has been a distinguished member of our organization for more than 40 years and it is an honor to work with him on this greatly needed effort."

Lions Clubs International Foundation's SightFirst program is a $143 million global initiative to eliminate preventable and reversible blindness. To date, the SightFirst program has funded 68 eye clinics, provided more than one million cataract surgeries, treated more than 3 million people to prevent river blindness, and screened more than 6 million people for eye disease.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has committed $20 million to global trachoma control, $13.6 million of which will go to the Carter Center over ten years. Donald Hubbs, the Foundation's chairman of the board, stated that "We decided to make The Carter Center the primary grant recipient of our newest major funding initiative because of the infrastructure it created for Guinea worm eradication in countries where trachoma is also endemic. Integrating trachoma control programs into these very successful country programs is a natural and expedient choice. In addition, the leadership and influence that President Carter and The Carter Center staff bring to the initiative are vital to its ultimate success."

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