BY KIM LEWIS, VOA
12 MARCH 2014
A European non-profit is launching new efforts to combat blindness in three African countries where some of the world’s highest rates of trachoma are found.
As part of their global strategy to eliminate trachoma, the European-based confederation, Light for the World, is increasing its activities in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Mozambique.
The organization is stepping up measures in these three countries with public awareness campaigns promoting cleanliness for prevention of the disease and providing medical and surgical treatment of complex cases.
“Trachoma is the leading cause of infectious blindness in the world,” says Dr. Amir Bedri, an ophthalmologist and senior advisor for Light for the World.
Trachoma is a painful infectious disease that is endemic to remote and poverty-stricken areas of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, he says. Bedri is the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness co-chair for Eastern and an Ethiopian expert on the disease.
He estimates that more than 299 million people – mostly women and children – suffer from the disease.
A disease that starts in childhood
“It’s actually a bacterial infection that happens in early childhood,” Bedri says. “When children get repeated infections during their childhood, it will lead to scarification of the inner side of the upper eyelids, which would lead to contraction, inward stemming of the eyelashes that in turn rub on the cornea.”
Trachoma is caused by a bacterium called chlamydia trachomatis and is contracted through flies, dust mites, unclean fingers, and places where sanitation is poor. Repeated infections damage the cornea which leads to blindness in adulthood.
Bedri says trachoma can be prevented by promoting personal hygiene and environmental sanitation. A wide spectrum of activities are needed to prevent the disease, including health education, and the promotion of the importance of a clean environmental.
For those suffering from the disease, surgery to correct the inward stemming of the eye lashes can prevent further damage to the cornea and preserve the patient’s eyesight. Surgical treatment can also address complications from later stages of the disease that usually happen in adulthood.
Bedri says combating trachoma requires a long-term commitment to changing daily personal behaviors in communities in order to reduce cases of trachoma.