As IMA World Health recognizes World Sight Day on October 13th, we honor our critical partnerships that are advancing efforts to control and eliminate trachoma, the world's leading infectious cause of preventable blindness.
Trachoma is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) and a public health problem in 44 countries. As of June 2021, 136 million people were living in trachoma endemic areas, including in many countries where IMA World Health operates. Blindness from trachoma is irreversible, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 1.9 million people have been left visually impaired or blind as a result of trachoma infection.
Women and children are most impacted by trachoma, with women blinded by trachoma four times as often as men. The disease thrives in water-scarce and crowded areas where there is inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
As a bacterial infection, trachoma can be spread through personal contact (via hands, clothing, bedding, etc.) and by flies that have been in contact with the nose or eyes of an infected person. Trachomatous trichiasis (TT), the advanced stage of trachoma, is caused by repeated infections over many years, resulting in scarring of the eyelid which leads to the eyelashes turning inwards. As eyelashes scratch the cornea, the result is extreme pain, discomfort and eventual irreversible blindness.
One dose of antibiotics can clear and prevent trachoma infections for up to one year, and end stage trachoma can be prevented by removing in-turned eyelashes through a simple, outpatient surgical procedure.
IMA World Health began working to eliminate trachoma in 2009, providing antibiotics through mass distribution campaigns to millions of people annually in trachoma endemic areas of Tanzania. Following the guidelines of the WHO-endorsed SAFE (Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial Cleanliness and Environmental Improvements) strategy to prevent, control and eliminate trachoma by addressing its root causes, IMA World Health continues to address the backlog of TT cases. Working alongside the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, IMA has supported health system strengthening from the local to the national level while identifying patients and providing surgical interventions in hard-to-reach locations. By partnering with government-sponsored clinics and tapping into faith-based networks, IMA World Health has been able to reach the most remote settings with life-altering interventions to preserve sight.