Trachoma is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. It is one of 18 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that affect over one billion of the world’s poorest people.1
Trachoma is caused by a contagious bacterial infection of the eye spread from person to person through contact with contaminated hands, clothing2 and eye-seeking flies. It often begins in early childhood, and is worsened by episodes of reinfection. This causes inflammation and scarring of the inner eyelid. The eyelashes touch and scratch the surface of the eyeball and, considering we blink an estimated 19,000 times each day,3 this repeated action leads to horrific pain and irreversible blindness.
Today, 1.9 million people are blind or moderately to severely visually impaired because of trachoma4 and some 200 million people are confirmed to live in endemic areas that need interventions.5 The disease is responsible for an estimated annual productivity loss of up to US$8 billion6 – eliminating it will cost around US$1 billion dollars.7
Whilst impressive progress has been made in recent years, we still have a lot to do, particularly as the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem cannot be achieved in isolation when it is linked to so many other pressing health and development issues, including lack of access to clean water, and improved sanitation and hygiene. Trachoma often co-exists with other NTDs; many of which affect the same communities and demand similar public health approaches.8
As an Alliance of diverse partners with shared commitments to achieving the elimination of trachoma, we need to redouble our efforts, urgently build an even broader coalition of funders and attract technical partners from other sectors if we are to accomplish our 2020 goals.
We know we are on the brink of achieving something significant. Eliminating Trachoma: Accelerating Towards 2020 is our plan of action – outlining what needs to be done to scale up programmes and strengthen health systems to ensure the poorest people, those most affected by NTDs like trachoma, are not left behind. One thing is for certain, a ‘business as usual’ approach is not going to get us to the targeted elimination date.
If you are new to the world of trachoma, we invite you to join this unique and powerful global health community, which is working hard to consign this wretched disease to history. If you are already invested in our work, we thank you for your continued commitment to working alongside us as we target GET2020.
On behalf of the WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020
Dr Anthony Solomon, Medical Officer for Trachoma, World Health Organization
Dr Kesetebirhan Admasu, Minister of Health, Ethiopia
Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, Chief Executive, Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust
Ms Virginia Sarah, Chair, International Coalition for Trachoma Control
Dr Sheila West, Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology, Johns Hopkins University