Trachoma is an infectious eye disease, and the leading cause of the world's infectious blindness. Globally, 84 million people suffer from active infection and nearly 8 million people are visually impaired as a result of this disease. Globally this disease results in an estimated US $2.9 billion in lost productivity every year.
Trachoma is caused by the bacterium Chlamidia trachomatis and it is spread by direct contact with eye, nose, and throat secretions from affected individuals, or contact with fomites (inanimate objects), such as towels and/or washcloths, that have had similar contact with these secretions. Untreated, repeated trachoma infections result in entropion —a painful form of permanent blindness when the eyelids turn inward, causing the eyelashes to scratch the cornea. Children are the most susceptible to infection, but the blinding effects are often not felt until adulthood.
Blinding endemic trachoma occurs in areas with poor personal and family hygiene. Many factors are indirectly linked to the presence of trachoma including lack of water, absence of latrines or toilets, poverty in general, flies, close proximity to cattle, crowding and so forth. However, the final common pathway seems to be the presence of dirty faces in children that facilitates the frequent exchange of infected ocular discharge from one child’s face to another. Most transmission of trachoma occurs within the family.
Although trachoma was eliminated from much of the developed world in the last century, this disease persists in many parts of the developing world particularly in communities without adequate access to water and sanitation. In many of these communities, men are three times more likely than women to be blinded by the disease.
Without intervention, trachoma keeps families shackled within a cycle of poverty, as the disease and its long-term effects are passed from one generation to the next.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has...