An ambitious global mapping project has revealed it would cost about US$1 billion to eliminate blinding trachoma by 2020, of which US$200-300 million has already been committed, an international conference in Sydney will be told today.
The estimate, based on a three-year survey of 2.6 million people in 29 countries, has revealed the true scope and cost of eliminating the disease, which is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness.
From 26-28 April, Sydney is hosting the annual meeting of the Alliance for GET2020 (Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020), the first time the meeting has been held in Australia. The conference will set priorities for work to combat the disease.
Chief Scientist of the Global Trachoma Mapping Project, Dr Anthony Solomon, said one of the primary hurdles to elimination had been a lack of information. But the new survey provides a clear picture of exactly what is needed to eliminate the disease.
“The amount of high quality data collected over the past three years by the mapping project has been greater than all the data collected over the previous 30 years,” Dr Solomon said.
“We now know that around 200 million people are at risk of trachoma and 3.6 million need surgery to avoid blindness. Based on current estimates, an additional US$700-800 million is needed to implement the SAFE strategy and eliminate trachoma globally by 2020.”
“With less than four years to reach the elimination target, we need to tackle the issue head on. Thanks to the powerful unity of the Alliance for GET2020, there is global commitment to eliminating a disease that has existed for thousands of years.”
Other key findings of the Global Trachoma Mapping Project:
  • The blinding stage of trachoma is up to four times more common in women than men (probably due to their greater close contact with infected children)
  • Nearly 50% of people at risk of trachoma live in three countries: Ethiopia, Nigeria and Malawi
  • 42 countries need interventions to eliminate trachoma 
Chair of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control, Virginia Sarah from The Fred Hollows Foundation, said that Australia was the only developed country to still have trachoma and as a result was at the forefront of the global challenge. 
“Trachoma is preventable yet millions of people around the world continue to lose their eyesight because of the scarring and in-turned eyelashes caused by infection,” Ms Sarah said.
“It is not just devastating but also excruciatingly painful - that’s why it remains one of The Fred Hollows Foundation’s priorities here in Australia and where we work overseas.
“We are on track to eliminate trachoma by the year 2020 in Australia, and the global community is working together to ensure we eliminate trachoma altogether.”
Dr Caroline Harper, CEO of Sightsavers, which led the Global Trachoma Mapping Project, said: “This creates a lasting platform which will underpin the drive to eliminate trachoma, and will also contribute to efforts to eliminate other neglected tropical diseases.   It demonstrates how critical accurate data are in the battle to eliminate diseases, and has been a tremendous exercise in collaboration and the use of mobile technology.”