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Trachoma is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness and one of 20 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that collectively affect over one billion of the world’s poorest people.

As of 2021, trachoma is known to be a public health problem in 44 countries, affecting communities with limited access to healthcare and other essential infrastructure, including water, sanitation and hygiene.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.9 million people are blind or experience vision impairment due to trachoma and two million people require urgent surgery to treat trachomatous trichiasis.

Treatment and successes

Progress to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem has been accelerated by significant coordination between health ministries, donors, implementing partners to scale up the WHO-endorsed SAFE strategy, which consists of multiple interventions to target various routes of transmission, as well as treating infection and its disabling effects. The strategy consists of:

  • Surgery to correct trachomatous trichiasis
  • Antibiotics for C. trachomatis infection
  • Facial cleanliness to reduce transmission
  • Environmental improvement to reduce risk of transmission and infection

Over the last two decades, significant progress has been made towards the global elimination of trachoma as a public health problem. The World Health Organization Weekly Epidemiological Record, published in 2021, reported that the number of people at risk of trachoma has declined from 1.5 billion in 2002 to 136.2 million in 2021 – a 91% reduction. Furthermore, 10 countries have been validated for eliminating trachoma as a public health problem, across all WHO-endemic regions.

Trachoma mapping

The global programme to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem has benefitted from substantial mapping activities, including the Global Trachoma Mapping Project – the world’s largest ever infectious disease survey, which collected data from 2.6 million people across 29 countries from 2012-2016. This has been continued by Tropical Data, a comprehensive service that has supported national trachoma programmes to conduct more than 1,940 surveys across 43 countries since 2016, examining more than 6.1 million people (as at 18 June 2020; source: Tropical Data).

Looking forward

The World Health Organization’s World Report on Vision and Ending the Neglect to Attain the Sustainable Development Goals: A road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021–2030, provide blue prints to accelerate progress towards the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem by 2030, through comprehensive integrated people centred approaches.

Photo Credits

Solomon Gadisa, Light for the World