UK to support surveys in countries where 180 million people at risk of blinding disease

02 Aug 2012
Screengrab of the Global Trachoma Atlas showing trachoma prevalence in Africa

The UK government is playing a critical role in the elimination of the most common infectious cause of blindness in the world by supporting a global survey to identify where people are living at risk from trachoma. 

The blinding disease affects more than 21 million people1 but it is estimated that an additional 180 million people worldwidelive in areas where trachoma is highly prevalent and are at risk of going blind. Supported by the UK government, a consortium of the International Trachoma Initiative, other NGOs and academic institutions, led by Sightsavers, will carry out the mapping in more than 30 of the world’s poorest countries in the next three years. 

Stephen O’Brien, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, said: “Trachoma causes misery and suffering to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. Mapping is the critical first step in identifying those most at risk from the disease and ensuring they receive the right treatment.

“Britain is at the forefront of the global effort to rid the world of Neglected Tropical Diseases such as trachoma and this work will play a key role in helping to achieve this.”

Support from the UK government will ensure:

  • Millions of people living in suspected endemic countries are surveyed by March 2015
  • Up to 1,100 local surveyors and analysts are trained to carry out disease mapping
  • A mobile application is developed to accurately record mapping data
  • Open access to disease maps is made available via

It is part of the UK’s commitment to the global push towards the elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and the first critical step towards the end of this specific disease. 

Chairman of Sightsavers, Lord Nigel Crisp comments: “The completion of the mapping of this disease will be a pivotal moment in the fight against trachoma.  Once these data are available the scale of the problem can be understood and it will be clear exactly where trachoma is putting people at risk of blindness so that the resources can be mobilised to enable us to end this dreadful condition.”  

Trachoma, caused by a bacterial infection, remains a significant threat in the developing world and is already confirmed as being endemic in 53 countries3. It is a disease of poverty that mainly affects people who live in hot, dry and dusty areas where there is poor availability of water and sanitation. Repeated infections, if untreated, can lead to blindness.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which has resolved to eliminate the disease by 2020, has developed a proven method to treat and prevent trachoma - the SAFE strategy4 - that is already being used in many countries.  However to ensure the disease can be eliminated on schedule, the scale and precise locations of trachoma need to be identified in the next three years. 

Dr Danny Haddad, director of the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) commented: “Blinding trachoma has a devastating personal and economic impact on people living in some of the world’s poorest countries so the UK government’s support is vital. By working with a group of NGOs with trachoma expertise the consortium is bringing together the best available resources for planning, implementation and research to achieve maximum impact with our mapping.  The end of trachoma is in sight.”

Dr Anthony Solomon, Walport Lecturer in Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Chief Scientist for the mapping project, said: "This funding will allow key mapping work to be completed worldwide in less than three years. It is an ambitious goal, but we have assembled an unrivalled consortium of organisations to get the job done."

Many neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are co-endemic and it is common for people to be simultaneously infected with a number of NTDs.  When possible, the prevalence of other NTDs and the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities will also be surveyed.