Initiative launched to eliminate blinding trachoma in Kenya by 2019

06 Oct 2014
Credit: Sightsavers

On 1 October, the Kenyan government launched an historic five-year initiative to eliminate blinding trachoma across the country by early 2019, with the support of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust (the Trust).

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Trachoma Initiative, spearheaded by the Kenyan Ministry of Health, aims to consign this debilitating disease to history across the entire country. To achieve this ambitious goal, the Kenyan government will be working with members of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control (ICTC), coordinated by Sightsavers, an international charity focused on the elimination of avoidable blindness. The initiative was launched in Kenya on 1 October.

The Trust was established in 2012 to mark and celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s 60-year contribution to the Commonwealth. With a mission to enrich the lives of people from all backgrounds across the Commonwealth in honour of The Queen, the Trust has chosen to make the elimination of avoidable blindness a major focus of its work.

Of the 229 million people living in trachoma endemic districts globally, about 16 million of them live in Kenya. The disease slowly and painfully robs people of their sight, as repeated infection turns eyelashes inwards, scraping the cornea and eventually causes irreversible blindness. Women, traditionally the caretakers of the home, are almost twice as likely as men to develop blinding trachoma.

Between 2014 and 2019, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Trachoma Initiative plans to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem in Kenya and Malawi and make significant advances towards elimination in Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda. It will also tackle the disease in Commonwealth countries in the Pacific and Australia. The Initiative is based on a large-scale programme of surgery, antibiotic distribution, facial cleanliness and environmental improvement initiatives. This tried and tested strategy, known as SAFE, is endorsed by the World Health Organization and has already yielded strong results in other Commonwealth countries such as Ghana.

Sir John Major, Chairman of the Trust said: "I am delighted that the Trust is working with the Government of Kenya to eliminate blinding trachoma across the country. Through this Initiative, the Trust seeks to make a real and enduring difference to people who are needlessly blind, in the name of Her Majesty The Queen."

Professor KH Martin Kollmann, Chair of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control (ICTC) and CBM Senior Advisor for NTDs commented: "It is extremely exciting to launch this ambitious trachoma programme. Blinding trachoma has a devastating personal and economic impact on people affected and their families. The ICTC is bringing together vast experience and the best available resources to support national programmes to make this ancient disease history."

Dr Caroline Harper, CEO of Sightsavers said: “This is a landmark programme for Kenya, being delivered through a major collaborative effort amongst organisations working in trachoma. Thanks to the commitment of the government, and the generosity of the Trust, trachoma elimination is truly within our grasp. Sightsavers is proud to be co-ordinating this initiative, which will see the lives of millions of individuals, their families and communities improved as this painful disease is made history here.”

By tackling this disease, not only will the programme help save the sight of people in Kenya and elsewhere, but it will enable children and young people to stay in education, and allow people to go out to work and support themselves and their families.