Thousands of people living in remote corners of war-torn Yemen have for the first time received antibiotics to treat trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness.

The Fred Hollows Foundation was a key partner in the mass drug administration of more than 444,000 doses of Zithromax®, donated by pharmaceutical company Pfizer. The activity was the result of global collaboration between the Yemen Ministry of Health, World Health Organization (WHO) and International Coalition of Trachoma Control members Sightsavers, The Fred Hollows Foundation, the International Trachoma Initiative and CBM.

Local health officials drove through conflict zones and past road blocks to the communities in rural Al Hodeidah and Ibb regions where trachoma - a painful but preventable eye disease - remains prevalent.

A team of more than 4,000 predominantly female volunteers went door-to-door through 273 villages to ensure the medicine was given safely to those who need it. The trained community health volunteers also gave out wash kits donated by WHO containing soap and hygiene advice to prevent the disease’s spread. Mostly women were chosen as community health volunteers because they can easily go into houses to treat women and children.

The country’s first mass drug administration to protect people from blinding trachoma is a rare moment of positive news in Yemen, a country which has been ravaged by several years of civil war and where many face an inadequate water supply and poor sanitation - conditions that help trachoma thrive.

An estimated 2.5 million people are at risk of trachoma in Yemen according to information gathered as part of the Global Trachoma Mapping Project – which saw trained surveyors and ophthalmic nurses visiting millions of people in some of the most remote parts of the world.
There were many hurdles to distributing treatment on this scale amidst conflict - from getting the drugs past port blockades and diverted-plane routes into the country in the first place, then along dangerous roads from the capital Sana’a where roadblocks and delays were common.
Once in the remote areas where they were needed, the antibiotics had to be taken door-to-door in villages where conflict has given locals good reason to be suspicious of strangers.

“Getting trachoma treatments to the people who need them in remote and poor communities is always challenging, but in a war-torn country like Yemen it’s even more difficult. But against that backdrop communities, the Ministry of Health and international organisations including Fred Hollows have combined to ensure almost half a million people at risk of this excruciating and potentially blinding disease receive much-needed protection.

“We know if we are going to eliminate trachoma we cannot leave communities in areas of conflict and crisis behind.”

Further distributions are planned to the other districts where treatment needs have been identified.

Trachoma, one of the world’s oldest diseases, is an infectious condition spread by flies and human touch. It starts as a bacterial infection and if it is left untreated, scar tissue can develop in the eyelid, turning eyelashes inwards. With every blink, eyelashes painfully scrape the surface of the eye and can cause irreversible blindness.