It’s going to cost US$1 billion to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem by 2020.
The calculation stems from data collected by more than 600 teams of intensively trained and certified local graders and recorders who trekked to the farthest corners of 29 countries over three years to screen 2.6 million people, as part of the Global Trachoma Mapping Project. This project was the largest ever survey of an infectious disease undertaken, and collected more data on trachoma in its three years of work than had been accumulated in the previous thirty.
Thanks to this huge effort, we now know where trachoma exists, how to treat it, and how much it’s going to cost.
The findings of the project were presented at the meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET2020) in Sydney, Australia in April 2016 where more than 150 delegates committed to eliminating trachoma as a public health problem by 2020. Trachoma is a poverty-related disease that is endemic in many of the most rural communities of 42 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Australia (where it affects indigenous populations in remote areas) and the Middle East.
According to data released in April, around 200 million people live in these endemic areas and are in need of treatment interventions, 1.9 million people are blind or visually impaired and 3.2 million people are desperately in need of eye-surgery to avoid blindness.
With less than four years to reach the elimination target, the need to tackle trachoma head on has never been greater. Whilst there are many successes to celebrate over the past five years, there are also many challenges that face the trachoma community.
No one is more aware of this than Dr Anthony Solomon, Medical Officer for Trachoma at WHO. He spoke to BBC World Service Radio about trachoma and what it will take to achieve global elimination goals.
One of the biggest hurdles will be targeting funders, policy makers and implementing partners to help countries where trachoma is still massively prevalent.
In Ethiopia, there are more than 75 million people living in trachoma-endemic areas, the largest number of any country in the world. However, the last few years have brought great change in the way Ethiopia is tackling the disease and the country is now seen as an inspirational example of what can be achieved with strong country leadership, coordinated partner support, and application of technical resources in order to eliminate trachoma.
Dr Amir Bedri Kello is a Senior Consultant for the organisation Light for the World. He told BBC World Service Radio that as long as there is continued coordination and scale-up of the SAFE interventions, he is confident Ethiopia will be able to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem by 2020.
Eliminating Trachoma: Accelerating towards 2020 will launch as an online publication at the beginning of July outlining the current disease burden, defining elimination challenges and priorities and communicating a strong call to action for continued and increased support to trachoma elimination.