Access to clean water and sanitation is critical to preventing the spread of eye infections like trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness.
Image by Ulrich Eigner for Light for the World Austria
Trachoma is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. It is estimated to be responsible for the visual impairment of about 1.9 million people, of whom 1.2 million are irreversibly blind. Mainly found in the poorest and most rural areas of low-and-middle-income countries, trachoma can destroy the economic well-being of entire communities, keeping affected families trapped in a cycle of poverty as the disease passes from one generation to the next. Trachoma thrives in areas with poor sanitation, over-crowded households and limited access to water for personal hygiene. Children are the most susceptible to infection, with the blinding effects of repeated infection usually developing in adulthood and robbing young people of their social and economic potential. Women are four times as likely as men to develop an infection in part because of repeated exposure to their children’s infections.Trachoma interventions, like the WHO SAFE Strategy are undertaken within national health systems and integrated into national priorities, contributing to health system strengthening. Besides eliminating trachoma as a public health problem, they improve the quality of life of whole communities. Comprehensive cross-sectoral programmes have achieved a 91% reduction in the number of people at risk of trachoma since 2002 and 15 countries have been validated by WHO for having eliminated trachoma as a public health problem. However, trachoma remains a public health problem in 44 countries with an estimated 125 million (as on June 2022) people living in areas requiring interventions against the disease.