Last year, over 5.8 million people in developing countries received free antibiotics donated by Pfizer to LIGHT FOR THE WORLD supported programmes and are thus prevented from going blind.
232 million people are estimated to be living in trachoma-endemic areas. 2.2 million people are visually impaired due to the disease. Every 15 minutes a person goes blind from trachoma.
Once a person is blind from trachoma, he or she will be blind forever. Currently 1.2 million people worldwide are blind from trachoma.
However, there is also one natural resource which plays a very important role in order to eliminate the highly contagious disease: It is water.
Clean water is key to eliminating the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. It starts with an itch. Like a grain of sand in your eye that can never be flushed out. With every blink it becomes more painful. Recurring infections and will eventually scar your eyelid, turn your lashed inward and destroys the cornea after a while. It ends with blindness: trachoma.
Trachoma is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. It is highly contagious and spreads through contact with eye discharge from the infected person. This happens through towels, handkerchiefs, fingers as well as flies. Facial hygiene thus is enormously important to prevent infection with trachoma.
Availability of water would allow children and adults to wash their face and keep it clean. This activity has to be combined with behavioral change in affected communities regarding personal hygiene and environmental sanitation.
Disease of Poverty
Trachoma is a disease of poverty. It mainly occurs in many of the poorest and most remote rural areas of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Australia and the Middle East. In these regions, people’s hygiene is not sufficient as a result of lacking clean water. «In areas where water is a scarce resource and women have to go for miles to fetch water, they are more likely to use it for drinking and cooking food rather than washing themselves with it», Dr. Amir Bedri says.
So, what can be done in these countries?
LIGHT FOR THE WORLD is implementing the WHO recommended SAFE strategy in Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Sudan, Burkina Faso and Pakistan. Each letter of SAFE stands for a measure to prevent and treat the disease: Surgery (lid operation), antibiotics, facial cleanliness, environmental hygiene. Water plays a very important role in these actions.
LIGHT FOR THE WORLD was also part of the Global Trachoma Mapping project to collect data on trachoma and in order to gather information in the Tigray and Somali regions in Ethiopia. In addition, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD supports the construction of fountains and waste water systems. A measure which has a positive effect on people’s health in general as well.
«It is important to maintain healthy behaviors overall such as washing the hands after using the restrooms. If people had access to water it would significantly contribute towards the reduction of waterborne diseases and reduce child mortality by reducing diarrhoeal diseases», Dr Amir says.
Once these measures are implemented, trachoma does not have to end in blindness, it does not even have to start in the first place. This is a pivotal point of the resolution adopted by the World Health Assembly to eliminate trachoma as a public-health problem by the year 2020.
Apart from trachoma initiatives, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD supports 164 programmes in 18 countries concerning eye health, community-based rehabilitation, inclusive education, disability-inclusive development and the promotion of the human rights of individuals with disabilities. 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.