The World Health Organisation has reported that the number of people at risk of trachoma – one of the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness – has fallen from 1.5 billion in 2002 to just over 142 million in 2019, with a reduction of 91%.
The data was presented at the 22nd meeting of the WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET2020) on 27 June 2019.
The findings reveal that the number of people requiring surgery for trachomatous trichiasis – the late, blinding stage of trachoma, has dropped from 7.6 million in 2002 to 2.5 million in 2019, a reduction of 68%.
Trachoma is a disease of the eye caused by infection with the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. The immune system can clear a single episode of infection, but in endemic communities the organism is frequently reacquired.
After years of repeated infection, the inside of the eyelid can become so severely scarred (trachomatous conjunctival scarring) that it turns inwards and causes the eyelashes to rub against the eyeball (trachomatous trichiasis), resulting in constant pain and light intolerance. This and other alterations of the eye can lead to scarring of the cornea. Left untreated, this condition leads to the formation of irreversible opacities, with resulting visual impairment or blindness.
Trachoma remains endemic in 44 countries and has blinded or visually impaired around 1.9 million people worldwide, says WHO.
Mapping of trachoma has been completed to identify its distribution and target control measures through the SAFE strategy, namely: Surgery for trichiasis, Antibiotics to clear infection, and Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvement to reduce transmission.
In 2018 alone, 146112 cases of trichiasis were managed and almost 90 million people were treated with antibiotics for trachoma in 782 districts worldwide.
Since 2011, eight countries have been validated by WHO as having eliminated trachoma as a public health problem. At least one country in every trachoma-endemic WHO region has now achieved this milestone, demonstrating the effectiveness of the SAFE strategy in different settings, reported WHO.