Trachoma in Tanzania: partnership accelerates progress towards elimination
Image: Sightsavers

Trachoma in Tanzania: partnership accelerates progress towards elimination

The Trust’s Trachoma Initiative and the UK Aid-funded DFID SAFE programme are working alongside the Tanzanian government in its efforts to eliminate blinding trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness.

In 2014 millions of people in Tanzania were at risk of losing their sight as a result of trachoma. It was then that the DFID SAFE programme began working in the regions of Manyara, Arusha, Pwani, Lindi, Mtwara and Dodoma to stop people with, or at risk of trachoma, from going blind.

A year later, The Trust’s Trachoma Initiative set out to expand the fight against trachoma in Tanzania, by working alongside the Tanzanian Government and DFID to eliminate the disease in Arusha, Dodoma and Lindi. Collectively, our efforts have:

  • Provided people with more than 12,000 sight-saving and pain-relieving surgeries
  • Trained, retrained an certified surgeons to perform this vital treatment
  • Trained more than 3,400 case finders to locate people with trichiasis (the most severe form of trachoma) and link them to treatment.
  • Trained and worked alongside 500 ward and community-level leaders and over 200 hygiene counsellors to help raise awareness about the importance of facial cleanliness and sanitation in preventing trachoma in over 80 villages.

Trachoma is caused by a bacterial infection easily spread from person to person and is most commonly found in poor, rural communities with limited access to clean water and sanitation. Repeated infection causes scar tissue to develop in the eyelid, and if left untreated the eyelashes turn inward, scraping the surface of the eye. With every blink, people slowly and painfully lose their sight.

Since 2014, the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative has been working towards the elimination of trachoma across 12 Commonwealth countries, seven of which are in Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda and Zambia).

The five-year DFID SAFE programme also began in 2014 and works on trachoma elimination in Chad, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia.

Both programmes are coordinated by Sightsavers and delivered by members of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control, collaborating with national Ministries of Health and affected communities.

Together, they are implementing the World Health Organization-endorsed SAFE strategy, a proven, four-pronged approach consisting of surgery to correct in-turned eye lashes and prevent further damage to the eye, antibiotic distribution to reduce the spread of infection, the promotion of facial cleanliness and environmental improvements to prevent transmission from person to person and to keep the disease at bay.

Thanks to collaborative efforts such as these, communities, countries and continents can look to a future free of trachoma.

In 2018, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the Tanzanian government reaffirmed its commitment to eliminating blinding trachoma and bringing quality eye care to all.

Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, Chief Executive of the Trust, said: 

“As we head into our final year we can be very proud of all that has been achieved by the Trachoma Initiative. Trachoma is an ancient scourge that has been responsible for the needless pain and suffering of millions. But thanks to the efforts of our many partners, all united under the International Coalition for Trachoma Control, more and more communities have become trachoma free, allowing millions of people across the Commonwealth the freedom to work, support their families, access education and interact with the world as they would wish to. The legacy of this work, in honour of Her Majesty The Queen, will be felt for decades to come. 

“Our greatest wish is that the huge strides made by the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative will very soon lead to a day when no one is at risk from this painful, blinding disease. As the work of the Trachoma Initiative draws to a close, the continued efforts of national governments and their partners will be paramount to ensuring countries that have borne the brunt of this terrible disease for too long will finally be declared trachoma free in the very near future by the World Health Organization.”

Dr Caroline Harper CBE, Chief Executive of Sightsavers, said: 

“The significant impact the Trachoma Initiative has made on eliminating trachoma is cause for celebration and is testament to the close collaboration between all those involved. Distributing treatment, training surgeons and mobilising case finders on such a large scale has only been made possible through effective partnership working, and millions of people’s lives are better as a result."