Global survey to identify 180 million at risk of blinding disease begins in Ethiopia

The Foundation is leading Australia’s contribution to eliminating the most common infectious cause of blindness in the world, with mapping of the disease trachoma beginning in Ethiopia.

The global survey, funded by the UK government, aims to see four million people across more than 30 countries examined between now and March 2015 to identify where people are living at risk from this neglected tropical disease (NTD) and where treatment programs are needed. The blinding disease affects more than 21 million people, but it is estimated that an additional 180 million people worldwide live 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, including over one third of African countries, in the next three years. 

The first survey was carried out in Oromia, in south west Ethiopia where 22 million people live in suspected endemic areas. The availability of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities is also being recorded, with all data captured on a smart phone.  All districts in Oromia will be mapped in the coming months and results uploaded to the Global Atlas of Trachoma website, an open-access resource on the geographical distribution of trachoma.

Dr Danny Haddad, Director of the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) who, together with The Fred Hollows Foundation, are supporting Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health to deliver the program in Ethiopia commented: “It is exciting to be beginning this global survey in Ethiopia.  Blinding trachoma has a devastating personal and economic impact on people living in some of the world’s poorest countries. 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 completion of the mapping of this region, Ethiopia and ultimately all endemic countries will mean 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 countries. 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 strategy - that is already being used in many countries. The global mapping project 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. 
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