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LSHTM scientist leads major trachoma mapping project

Thursday, 02 August 2012

The UK government is playing a critical role in the elimination of the most common infectious cause of blindness in the world by supporting a global survey to identify where people are living at risk from trachoma. 

The blinding disease affects more than 21 million people but it is estimated that an additional 180 million people worldwide live in areas where trachoma is highly prevalent and are at risk of going blind.  

Experts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine will play a key role in a consortium of the International Trachoma Initiative, other NGOs and academic institutions, led by Sightsavers, which will carry out the mapping in more than 30 of the world’s poorest countries in the next three years. 

International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien said: “Trachoma causes misery and suffering to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. Mapping is the critical first step in identifying those most at risk from the disease and ensuring they receive the right treatment.

“Britain is at the forefront of the global effort to rid the world of Neglected Tropical Diseases such as trachoma and this work will play a key role in helping to achieve this.”

Support from the UK government will ensure:

Dr Anthony Solomon, Walport Lecturer in Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Chief Scientist for the mapping project, said: "This funding will allow key mapping work to be completed worldwide in less than three years. It is an ambitious goal, but we have assembled an unrivalled consortium of organisations to get the job done." 

Trachoma, caused by a bacterial infection, remains a significant threat in the developing world and is already confirmed as being endemic in 53 countries. It is a disease of poverty that mainly affects people who live in hot, dry and dusty areas where there is poor availability of water and sanitation. Repeated infections, if untreated, can lead to blindness.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which has resolved to eliminate the disease by 2020, has developed a proven method to treat and prevent trachoma - the SAFE strategy - that is already being used in many countries.  However to ensure the disease can be eliminated on schedule, the scale and precise locations of trachoma need to be identified in the next three years. 

Chairman of Sightsavers, Lord Nigel Crisp, said: “The completion of the mapping of this disease will be a pivotal moment in the fight against trachoma.  Once these data are available the scale of the problem can be understood and it will be clear exactly where trachoma is putting people at risk of blindness so that the resources can be mobilised to enable us to end this dreadful condition.” 

Dr Danny Haddad, director of the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), added: “Blinding trachoma has a devastating personal and economic impact on people living in some of the world’s poorest countries so the UK government’s support is vital. By working with a group of NGOs with trachoma expertise the consortium is bringing together the best available resources for planning, implementation and research to achieve maximum impact with our mapping.  The end of trachoma is in sight.”

Many neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are co-endemic and it is common for people to be simultaneously infected with a number of NTDs.  When possible, the prevalence of other NTDs and the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities will also be surveyed. 

Ends

References:

  1. WER 27 April 2012, “Global WHO Alliance for the Elimination of Blinding Trachoma by 2020”, available at http://trachoma.org//sites/default/files/Mariotti.WER_.2012.pdf
  2. WHO 2010, “Working to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases”, WHO report on neglected tropical diseases, available at http://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/en/
  3. WER 27 April 2012, “Global WHO Alliance for the Elimination of Blinding Trachoma by 2020”, available at http://trachoma.org//sites/default/files/Mariotti.WER_.2012.pdf
  4. International Trachoma Initiative, http://www.trachoma.org/safe-strategy

About the Consortium

£10.6 million is being provided by the UK government to support the mapping of trachoma in over 30 developing countries by March 2015. 

The current members of the consortium are The Carter Center, CBM, Fred Hollows Foundation, Helen Keller International (HKI), Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology (KCCO), Organisation pour la Prévention de la Cécité (OPC), Sightsavers, ITI, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and WaterAid, Others who have played an advisory role include the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USAID, Johns Hopkins University (JHU). Implementing agencies have not yet been finalised, but may include any organisation that has the experience, knowledge and capacity to carry out mapping in the high priority countries.

About the International Centre for Eye Health

Dr Solomon is a member of the International Centre for Eye Health - a research and education group at LSHTM. Its research aims to contribute to the evidence base for the implementation of cost effective sight-saving and blindness prevention interventions in low and middle income countries.

Image: a young child being measured to see what level of antibiotics they need at a Sightsavers-supported mass distribution centre for trachoma drugs near Kijado, Kenya. Credit: Kate Holt/Sightsavers

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