Bill & Melinda Gates predict a breakthrough in eliminating blinding trachoma

22 January 2015, London, UK: The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust (the Trust) welcomes the  inclusion of ending the blinding disease trachoma, amongst the major breakthroughs in health predicted for the next 15 years in the annual letter issued by the Gates Foundation today.  

“Wiping polio and three other diseases off the face of the earth.  Destroying a disease utterly is a very difficult thing to do so difficult, in fact, that it’s only happened once in history, when smallpox was eradicated in 1980. But if we keep working hard, we can eradicate four diseases by 2030. We can get polio out of Africa this year and out of every country in the world in the next several years. Guinea Worm, an incredibly painful disease whose sufferers spend months 
incapacitated while worms that can be several feet long burst out of their legs, will also be gone soon, thanks in large part to the leadership of President Carter and the Carter Center. We’ll also see thelast of diseases like Elephantiasis, River Blindness, and Blinding Trachoma, which disable tens of millions of people in poor countries. The drugs that can stop these scourges are now being donated in huge numbers by pharmaceutical companies, and they’re being used more strategically thanks to advances in digital maps that show where diseases are most prevalent. Last year these free medicines were distributed to 800 million people."

Astrid Bonfield CBE, Chief Executive, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust said:

We are grateful to Bill and Melinda Gates for highlighting that elimination of blinding trachoma, is a significant breakthrough that is within our grasp.  2015 is indeed a key moment for the elimination of trachoma.  It will see the global mapping of this disease completed, pinpointing where the remaining gaps in treatment are, and the investment required to stamp out this ancient, painful disease.

Through the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative we are seeking to make a significant contribution over five years to the elimination of blinding trachoma, making a real and enduring difference to sufferers and those at risk, in the name of Her Majesty The Queen.  Across the world those dedicated to the objective of the elimination of blinding trachoma are increasingly linking up and working in coalition, to achieve the best results more quickly.  We urge other donors to join this effort, cover
the remaining gaps and help beat this disease once and for all.

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Trachoma Initiative (the Trachoma Initiative) is currently investing £41.4m to help support the elimination of this disease in six Commonwealth countries in Africa. Over the next five years, the Trust is working with  members of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control (ICTC), including Sightsavers who are grant managers of the Initiative, to implement a large-scale programme of surgery, antibiotic distribution, facial cleanliness and environmental change initiatives, known as the SAFE strategy and endorsed by the World Health Organization, including:

  • Targeting 219 districts in six Commonwealth countries in Africa;
  • Providing surgery for over 189,000 people with the advanced stages of blinding trachoma, known as trichiasis, to correct their in-turned lashes;
  • Providing over 11 million people with treatment for the active infection;
  • Improving health messages targeting community hygiene and sanitation practices;
  • Working with others at all levels – global, national and district – to improve access to safe water sources and sanitation in the programme areas.

The Trust was established in 2012 to mark and celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s 60-year contribution to the Commonwealth at the time of her Diamond Jubilee. With a mission to enrich the lives of people from all backgrounds across the Commonwealth in honour of The Queen, the Trust has chosen to make the elimination of avoidable blindness a major focus of its work.

About 229 million people live in trachoma endemic districts globally. The disease slowly and painfully robs people of their sight, as repeated infection turns eyelashes inwards, scraping the cornea and eventually causing irreversible blindness. Blinding trachoma has a devastating personal and economic impact on the people affected and their families. Women are almost twice as likely as men to develop blinding trachoma.

By 2019 The Trust plans to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem in Kenya and Malawi and make significant advances towards elimination in Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. It will also tackle the disease in Commonwealth countries in the Pacific and Australia.