Foundation joins with Sightsavers to tackle trachoma

The Foundation is extending its reach in Africa through a new partnership with UK based not-for-profit Sightsavers.

This new partnership will see The Foundation support initiatives to fast track the elimination of trachoma in Malawi, Cameroon, The Gambia, Zambia, Nigeria and Senegal.

The Foundation's CEO Brian Doolan says that the new partnership is an example of two organisations from different sides of the world working together to combat a global problem.

"Sightsavers and The Fred Hollows Foundation share a common goal - we want to help eliminate trachoma which is a horrible blinding disease impacting millions of people.

"We share many of the same values and ways of working, so it's natural that we have joined our efforts to help reach more people and implement change," says Mr Doolan. 

Sightsavers has drawn up a ten-year strategic plan (2011-2020), addressing all aspects of the World Health Organization's SAFE strategy. The SAFE strategy combines Surgical intervention withAntibiotics, Face cleaning and Environmental improvements to stop the blinding disease in entire populations.

"The Foundation will be working together with Sightsavers to implement the four key areas of the SAFE strategy with the ultimate goal of eliminating trachoma.

"Imagine being able to say that we've wiped a disease from these countries which had previously caused so much suffering. That is what we're setting out to achieve with this partnership.

"Given Fred's involvement with trachoma in Australia during the mid 1970s, I think he'd be pushing us all the way until we achieve this goal," says Mr Doolan.

The following summary shows how trachoma is impacting each of the above-mentioned countries. It also highlights some of the activities either underway or planned to stem the disease.  

Cameroon

In the far north region of Cameroon, active trachoma exists in over 14% of the population. To combat the disease, The Foundation and Sightsavers will initially concentrate efforts on the surgical, face cleaning and environmental change aspects of the SAFE strategy. For example, at least ten doctors will be trained in trachomatous trichiasis surgery and community representatives will attend workshops to encourage more community awareness and education about the disease itself, and steps required to prevent it.

The Gambia

The Gambia is at a more advanced stage of trachoma elimination, therefore it is essential that surveillance activities take place to ensure that implemented SAFE initiatives are working and the disease itself is under control.

Zambia

A lot of work needs to be done to eliminate trachoma in Zambia. Trachoma activities will take place in Choma and Mufulira Districts and surveys will be undertaken in another three. Up to 19 surgeons will receive training in Trachomatous Trichiasis surgery and a further 126 rural health staff and 1,260 Community Health Workers will be trained in disease identification and drug administration. There will be a large focus on community education through schools, communities and media to improve hygiene practices.   

Senegal

In Senegal surveys are taking place, surgeons and community health workers are being trained, equipment is being delivered and almost 145,000 people will receive antibiotics this year to try to bring the disease under control.

Malawi

Trachoma is endemic in parts of Malawi, impacting up to 21% of the population across some districts. Before now, there has been no comprehensive trachoma control program in place to stem the impact of the disease. Training of surgeons is an essential first step in Malawi and up to 200 surgeries are planned before the end of 2011. An educational program aimed at raising awareness of the disease is underway and preparations are being made to distribute medicine to over 800,000 people.

Nigeria

A recent survey suggests that trachoma accounts for around 4% of people who are blind in Nigeria. Prevalence is highest in the north of the country where socio-economic risk factors are in play. To combat trachoma in these areas of Nigeria there is a focus on surgery, training and raising community awareness. Over 1.5 million people are to receive antibiotics, including over 350,000 children.
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