Milestone in fight against trachoma: Almost six million people prevented from going blind

In 2015, the disability and development organisation LIGHT FOR THE WORLD successfully con-tinued its fight against trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. Last year, over 5.8 million people in developing countries received the free antibiotics which Pfizer donated to LIGHT FOR THE WORLD supported programmes through the International Trachoma Initiative. “This is a huge success for us and our partners in the global initiative against trachoma,” com-ments Rupert Roniger, CEO of LIGHT FOR THE WORLD, on the NGO’s annual figures for 2015.

A disease linked to poverty

Whereas in the 19th century trachoma was a common cause of blindness in Europe, this ne-glected tropical disease (NTD) now occurs mostly in developing countries, especially in poor, underserved and remote areas with limited access to water, sanitation and health care. According to the WHO, over 21.4 million people worldwide directly affected by the disease are at risk of go-ing blind. 232 million people live in trachoma endemic areas.
Ophthalmologist Amir Bedri Kello of LIGHT FOR THE WORLD, one of the world’s leading tra-choma specialists, explains: “Repeated untreated infections with the trachoma bacterium in early childhood lead to the advanced stage of the disease – usually in adulthood – known as tracho-matous trichiasis, where the eyelid margin turns inwards and the eyelashes touch the globe. This is a very painful condition which, if not surgically managed, may result in corneal opacity and irre-versible blindness.” 4.6 million people are currently at risk of going blind unless they get immedi-ate lid surgery.
Dr. Bedri goes on to clarify that: “The good news is that trachoma is a preventable and treatable disease thanks to the implementation of the WHO’s recommended SAFE strategy. SAFE is an acronym for Surgery for trachomatous trichiasis, Antibiotics to treat active infection, Facial clean-liness and Environmental sanitation to prevent the disease from recurring.”

Joint forces in eliminating blinding trachoma

LIGHT FOR THE WORLD is part of GET 2020, a global initiative to eliminate blinding trachoma by the year 2020. LIGHT FOR THE WORLD CEO Rupert Roniger explains: “In our focus coun-tries of Ethiopia and Mozambique, we are implementing the WHO’s recommended SAFE strate-gy, which combines medical procedures with health and sanitation measures to combat tracho-ma.” And the fight against trachoma is making progress: the number of people going blind due to trachoma has decreased over the recent decades. In order to make disease control even more effective, over the past three years a ground-breaking global disease mapping project (GTMP) has identified where, and how many people are at risk of blindness from trachoma. LIGHT FOR THE WORLD was responsible for mapping the trachoma-endemic Tigray and Somali regions of Ethiopia.

LIGHT FOR THE WORLD activities in 2015

LIGHT FOR THE WORLD is an international disability and development organisation with the vision of an inclusive society in which no one is excluded. The organisation strives for accessible eye care services, supports inclusive education, and empowers persons with disabilities to partic-ipate equally in society. LIGHT FOR THE WORLD is one of the leading European NGOs in eye health, community-based rehabilitation, inclusive education, disability-inclusive development and the promotion of the human rights of individuals with disabilities. As of 2015, the NGO provided support for 164 programmes in 18 countries. Last year LIGHT FOR THE WORLD was able to support 109.200 children with disabilities and perform over 50.800 cataract operations. In 2015 the organisation received over 25 million euros (provisional figure) in donations, institutional and government funding.