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Carter Center Appoints Kelly Callahan as Director of Trachoma Control Program

Contact: Paige Rohe, prohe@emory.edu, +1-404-420-5129

ATLANTA…The Carter Center announces today the appointment of Ms. Kelly Callahan, M.P.H., as the director of the Center's Trachoma Control Program, effective April 14, 2014.

Ms. Callahan assumes the helm of a pioneering program, which began in 1998 with initial support provided by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and subsequent additional support from the Lions Clubs International Foundation as well as the important in-kind contribution of antibiotic treatment from Pfizer Inc.

"Kelly Callahan brings deep public health experience in Africa, intimate knowledge of all the Carter Center's health programs, and great passion to improve lives," said Carter Center Vice President Dr. Donald Hopkins. "There's greater opportunity than ever before for the Center's trachoma program, in collaboration with ministries of health and other partners, to achieve maximal impact on eliminating the blinding form of this disease, while securing ancillary benefits against other diseases and improving local capacities." 

Callahan has spent the majority of her 18 years fighting tropical diseases in Africa at The Carter Center, where she has played key roles in efforts to eradicate Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis), eliminate river blindness (onchocerciasis) where possible from the Americas and Africa, and defeat blinding trachoma.

As the Carter Center's representative to the southern states of Sudan for six years, Ms. Callahan overcame significant challenges to successfully introduce and manage the Center's Trachoma Control Program to assist several highly endemic areas. Conversant in French and having spent many years living and working in Africa, Callahan has served for more than a decade as assistant director for program support of all of the Center's health programs where she has worked in close partnership with many other nongovernmental organizations, donors, and suppliers.

Before coming to The Carter Center, Ms. Callahan was a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Cote d'Ivoire. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati and a Master of Public Health from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. She sits on the boards of Atlanta Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and of the Rollins School of Public Health Alumni Association. She succeeds Dr. Paul Emerson as director of the Trachoma Control Program.

The Carter Center has helped pioneer efforts to wipe out blindness from trachoma

With the continued support of numerous donors and partners, the Carter Center's Trachoma Control Program is a pioneer in the global effort to eliminate blinding trachoma worldwide by 2020. In 1993, the Carter Center's International Task Force for Disease Eradication became the first international body to decide that it was scientifically feasible to wipe out blindness caused by trachoma—but not eliminate the infection or the microbe itself. In 1998, the World Health Organization adopted a resolution calling for the global elimination of blinding trachoma as a public health problem.

In association with external partners, in 2008, The Carter Center helped Ghana become the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem.

Today, the Carter Center's leadership on trachoma interventions continues in six of the worst-affected countries in the world—Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, and South Sudan—where the assisted national programs have made steady progress against the disease. In 2014, the Center also began assisting trachoma activities in Uganda.

In partnership with national programs, endemic communities, and partners, the Center has distributed more than 100 million doses of Zithromax®, a Pfizer-donated antibiotic to treat the disease, conducted about one-third of the global output of surgeries, built approximately 2.9 million latrines, and conducts ongoing health education on personal hygiene in thousands of villages.

In 2013 alone, the Carter Center's Trachoma Control Program assisted in delivering eyelid surgeries for 59,000 persons suffering from advanced trachoma, helped distribute more than 13 million doses of Zithromax®, and assisted in the construction of almost 300,000 latrines to prevent breeding of the flies that help spread trachoma.

Trachoma is a neglected disease of poverty

Trachoma is a bacterial eye infection found in poor, isolated communities that lack the tools for basic hygiene, clean water, and adequate sanitation. It is easily spread from person to person through hands, eyes, and clothes. Repeated infection leads to scarring and inward turning of the eyelid — a very painful condition called trichiasis — eventually causing blindness if left untreated.

Trachoma can be found in 59 countries, most in Africa and the Middle East, and a few countries in the Americas and Asia. Approximately 320 million people are at risk for trachoma, and an estimated 4.6 million are at immediate risk for blindness from trichiasis.

The World Health Organization endorses a combination of interventions to control trachoma, known by the acronym SAFE: Surgery (to prevent immediate blindness from those in the advanced stages of the disease), Antibiotics (to treat active infections), Facial cleanliness (to prevent infections), andEnvironmental improvement (to prevent the spread of the disease).

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"Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope."
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care.  The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.

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