In a global health win, new data released Thursday by the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that the number of people at risk of blindness from trachoma has been reduced by 91% since 2002.
This announcement comes just months after a group of donors announced a $105-million commitment to Accelerate, a program designed to increase progress on the elimination of trachoma, at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100.
Trachoma is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) that is the leading cause of infectious blindness in the world. While it begins as a bacterial infection, it will worsen quickly if not treated, and will then line the inside of the eyelid with rough scars and force the eyelashes to turn inward.
The new figures, which were revealed at the WHO Alliance for GET2020 meeting, show that the number of people at risk decreased from 1.5 billion in 2002 to just over 142 million in 2019.
The data also shows that the number of people needing surgery for the late and blinding stage of trachoma (trachomatous trichiasis) fell from 7.6 million in 2002 to 2.5 million in 2019 — showing a reduction of 68%.
“Eliminating trachoma contributes to the ocular health and quality of life of the poorest, most disadvantaged people worldwide and thereby moves us a step closer to achieving universal health coverage,” Dr. Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, director of the WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, said in a statement.
Moses Chege, Accelerate Deputy Director at @Sightsavers, shares an update on the fight against #trachoma and the $105M commitment made to @TheAudaciousPrj by @DFID_UK, @VirginUnite, @CIFFchild@ELMAPhilanthro, and @gatesfoundation at #Mandela100. pic.twitter.com/5w0KGXNlB1— Global Citizen Impact (@GlblCtznImpact) June 27, 2019
Indeed, this NTD affects the world’s poorest communities. It has become a public health issue in 41 countries, mainly affecting the most vulnerable areas of Africa.
“Ridding the world of this painful, debilitating disease is being made possible through generous donations of the antibiotic azithromycin, sustained contributions from a network of dedicated funding agencies and partners, and the efforts of hundreds of thousands of front-line workers who work tirelessly to engage communities and deliver interventions,” Ntuli Malecela said.
There are 149 countries and territories around the world that are impacted by at least one NTD — and 100% of low-income countries are affected by at least five at a time. NTDs include illnesses like trachoma, leprosy, onchocerciasis (river blindness), soil-transmitted helminthiases, and many more.
“This is great progress, but we cannot afford to become complacent,” Dr Anthony Solomon, medical officer in charge of WHO’s global trachoma elimination program, said in a statement. “We should be able to relegate trachoma to the history books in the next few years, but we will only do so by redoubling our efforts now. The last few countries are likely to be the hardest.”