Although it is almost entirely unknown in developed nations, the eye disease known as trachoma
is in fact the leading cause of blindness
in the world today. Trachoma is an infection of the mucus membranes in the eye by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis
. Symptoms include excessive tearing, intense pain, sensitivity to light, and swelling of the eyelids. Especially dangerous is the tendency of the eyelid to swell and turn inward, lacerating the cornea
and causing blindness due to corneal scarring, especially as a result of repeated infection.
Spread and Scope
Trachoma is spread through direct contact with infected persons, or contact with unclean water or items handled by infected persons, and there is also some evidence that the disease can be spread by gnats and flies. More than 400 million people are affected by trachoma, the vast majority in poorer parts of Africa and Asia, of whom the WHO estimates that 150 million are at risk of blindness due to inadequate medical treatment, and 6 million are already blind as a result.
Treatment and Prevention
Trachoma can be quickly and effectively treated by the timely application of topical or oral antibiotics. Preventative measures such as frequent washing of hands and face with clean water and sanitary disposal of human and animal waste can dramatically reduce instances of trachoma in affected communities.
In conjunction with World Water Day in 2001, the WHO and a number of interested parties launched "GET 2020" - the Global alliance for the Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020. The alliance has adopted the "SAFE" strategy to combat trachoma. The four components of the strategy are:
- Surgery - a simple two-minute surgical procedure to reverse inward-turned eyelids can dramatically reduce corneal scarring.
- Antibiotics - especially a new, cheap, and effective tetracycline-laced eye ointment.
- Facial cleanliness
- Environmental changes