Trust to expand its work to eliminate blinding trachoma in Africa

20 April 2017: As a result of significant progress being made by partners delivering the Trachoma Initiative in Africa, the Trust is delighted to confirm it will expand its work to end blinding trachoma in Nigeria, Uganda and Zambia.

The increase in the Trust’s commitment to end trachoma comes as global policy leaders and experts meet in Geneva at the neglected tropical diseases (NTD) Summit, hosted by Uniting to Combat NTDs and the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Summit is celebrating record achievements in the fight against neglected tropical diseases – including those to tackle blinding trachoma – and aims to reaffirm future priorities for the NTD community worldwide. 

The Summit brings with it an announcement from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) that it will further invest an additional £205 million to combat NTDs to help protect over 200 million people worldwide. The UK government’s crucial new support package to tackle NTDs includes the provision to prevent up to 400,000 cases of blindness caused by trachoma, and builds on its continued efforts to eliminate NTDs like trachoma for good. In addition to leading its own trachoma programmes, the UK government has previously provided £50 million in match funding to the Trust to support its work to end avoidable blindness across the Commonwealth.

The Trust’s Trachoma Initiative is currently implementing the WHO-endorsed SAFE strategy, proven to eliminate trachoma, in 11 countries across three regions of the Commonwealth. Latest reports show that since work began in 2013, over 11 million people at risk of trachoma have received treatment and 60,000 people with the disease have had sight-saving surgery to correct in-turned eyelashes. Zambia will now become the 12th country where the Trust will help eliminate blinding trachoma. In Zambia, and through expanded programmes in Nigeria and Uganda, the Trust will help treat an additional 15 million people and provide surgery to save the sight of almost 17,500 people with the advanced stages of the disease.

In Zambia, working in partnership with DFID, and under the leadership of the Zambian Government, the Trust’s aim is to eliminate trachoma entirely by:

·         Providing 3.8 million people across 19 districts with carefully administered antibiotics to treat the disease;

·         Ensuring 2,400 people with trachoma receive sight-saving surgery across nine districts;

·         Conducting 19 impact surveys to assess levels of trachoma as the country moves towards elimination and to demonstrate that the disease has been eliminated as a public health problem by 2020.

In Nigeria, where the Trust is currently working in the northern state of Katsina to make significant advances towards trachoma, additional resource will be provided to extend the Initiative to other areas of the country. Over the next two years, the Trust will support:

·         A mapping exercise to assess levels of trachoma in 20 districts in the Yobe and Jigawa states;

·         The distribution of antibiotics to treat up to 3.1 million people either with or at risk of getting the disease;

·         The provision of surgery to save the sight of up to 15,000 people who have the advanced stage of trachoma – trachoma trichasis.

The Initiative will also work with the Nigerian Government to help strengthen healthcare systems across the country in order to enable the provision of further sight-saving surgery for those who need it and to help Nigeria’s National Trachoma Task Force to continue its efforts to eliminate trachoma in other areas where the disease is endemic.

In Uganda, due to the significant progress achieved to date towards eliminating the disease, the Trust is now expanding its Initiative to 23 new districts in the East, West and North of the country. Work will be undertaken to:

·         Provide surgery to all people with trachoma trichiasis to correct in-turned eyelashes;

·         Promote facial cleanliness across 19 regions to reduce reinfection and to prevent transmission from person to person;

·         Help secure environmental improvements to increase access to safe water sources and sanitation in 19 regions.  

It is anticipated that this expansion in the Trust’s Initiative will enable Uganda to achieve the national elimination of blinding trachoma across the country by early 2019.

Talking about the expansion of the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative in Uganda, Nigeria and Zambia, Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, said:

“I am delighted that, thanks to the remarkable efforts of our trachoma partners to date, we are now able to scale-up work underway in Nigeria and Uganda and start working in Zambia to eliminate blinding trachoma.

Trachoma is an ancient disease that has blighted too many people’s lives for too long. It’s excellent that the trachoma community is coming together in Geneva to ensure collaborative efforts remain as strong as they can be, and encouraging that other donors like the Department of the International Development in the United Kingdom continue to lead the charge in beating this and other NTDs.

We know what we need to do to eliminate blinding trachoma and we must all do all we can to ensure that it no longer needlessly causes pain, suffering or blindness to anyone in the Commonwealth or around the world.”