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Like 41% of children in Niger, seven-year-old Nana Habou’s trachoma infection put her independence and future in jeopardy. Without corrective surgery, trachoma, a preventable disease that afflicts more than 84 million people, mostly in Africa and Asia, would have blinded her. This has been the fate of nearly eight million people disabled by trachoma worldwide.
Trachoma is highly contagious and most prevalent in overcrowded, poverty-stricken communities that lack access to clean water and sanitation. Repeat and chronic infections lead to scarring of the cornea. This painful condition, called trichiasis, not only causes blindness and disfigurement, but also leads to dependence and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
In 2004, AmeriCares joined a coalition led by the World Health Organization to achieve the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET 2020). Working in partnership with the International Trachoma Initiative and Pfizer, AmeriCares focuses on surgery and primary antibiotics as part of a comprehensive public health strategy to control trachoma. Currently, AmeriCares is providing 818 trichiasis surgical kits to medical teams in Mali, Niger, Senegal and Ethiopia, which will enable them to travel to remote communities to perform more than 50,000 eyelid surgeries, reversing blindness for some patients and preventing further deterioration of sight for others.
Since 2004, AmeriCares has provided the Ministries of Health in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Morocco, Nepal and Senegal, with enough of the antibiotic Zithromax®, donated generously by Pfizer, to treat 35.3 million trachoma cases. In 2008, AmeriCares will deliver an additional 9.2 million courses of treatment.
“Trachoma does not kill, but it destroys lives and strips individuals and whole communities of opportunity,” says Elizabeth Furst Frank, AmeriCares senior vice-president of global programs. “In the short-term, AmeriCares is reducing suffering and disability; in the long-run, everyone fighting trachoma is helping break the cycle of poverty.”