The number of people at risk from trachoma, the world's leading infectious cause of blindness, has reduced from 190.2 million in 2016 to 157.7 million in April 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported in its Weekly Epidemiological Record (WER).
The progress update presents 2017 data on the implementation of the SAFE strategy (surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness, environmental improvements) in trachoma-endemic countries as well as summaries based on district-level prevalence estimates held in the GET2020 database as of 17 April 2018.
Since the last Weekly Epidemiological Record including trachoma progress (2014 – 2016) published in June 2017, four countries - Lao People's Democratic Republic, Cambodia, Nepal and Ghana - have been officially validated for eliminating trachoma as a public health problem. Five other countries - China, Gambia, Iraq, Islamic Republic of Iran and Myanmar - have reported achievement of the prevalence targets for elimination.
The record shows that ministries of health are continuing to achieve historically high levels of surgeries and delivery of antibiotics. In 2017, 83.5 million people received antibiotics to treat trachoma infection. 2017 also saw 231,447 surgeries conducted to treat trachomatous trichiasis, the late blinding stage of trachoma.
We must continue to advocate for mapping in areas where the disease prevalence is uncertain and target more resources to populations that are hard to reach. This year's mass drug administration for trachoma in Yemen proved that the most vulnerable populations can be reached when partners use their expertise and resources strategically
"The record continues to show that the SAFE strategy works when it is implemented comprehensively and at scale", said Serge Resnikoff, Chair of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control. "We must continue to advocate for mapping in areas where the disease prevalence is uncertain and target more resources to populations that are hard to reach. This year's mass drug administration for trachoma in Yemen proved that the most vulnerable populations can be reached when partners use their expertise and resources strategically."
2017 data shows that 89% (146.3 million) of people living in endemic areas live in WHO’s African Region and 42% (69.8 million) live in Ethiopia, which has the largest burden of trachoma. In 2017, WHO’s South-East Asia Region reported no districts known to require the A, F and E components for the second year in a row.
The update on trachoma progress comes one month after pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that it will continue its drug donation program through 2025. Pfizer's drug donation has resulted in over 740 million drugs being donated to 40 endemic countries through the International Trachoma Initiative. This year marks 20 years of partnership between Pfizer and the International Trachoma Initiative, founded by Pfizer and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.
2018 also marks 20 years since the World Health Assembly adopted Resolution 51:11 targeting trachoma for global elimination. Since 1998, seven countries have achieved the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem, while 43 countries have been identified as known to require interventions. Ghana's validation of trachoma elimination in May 2018 means that all WHO regions have now achieved elimination in at least one country, demonstrating the effectiveness of the SAFE strategy across different contexts. This progress would not have been achieved without the commitment and dedication to a global partnership between endemic countries, implementing partners, WHO and donors.