RPT-INTERVIEW-Medication, money and maps: How to fight a debilitating eye disease

Fri Apr 21, 2017 4:06pm GMT

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By Astrid Zweynert

LONDON, April 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In some of the world's remotest corners, health workers armed with smartphones, digital maps and medication are making steady progress in eliminating trachoma, the world's leading infectious cause of blindness, a leading expert said.

Better living conditions have wiped out trachoma in many countries but some 200 million people are still at risk of contracting the disease, according to the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI).

Trachoma is categorized by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a neglected tropical disease (NTD), one of a group of 18 debilitating and sometimes fatal illnesses that affect 1.5 billion people, mainly in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Efforts to treat trachoma include improving access to clean water and decreasing the number of infected people by treating them with antibiotics.

ITI Director Paul Emerson said antibiotics donation programmes, increased government spending, a global mapping project identifying hotspots and the use of smartphones to collect data had been gamechangers in fighting trachoma.

"We know where the disease is, we know what to do about it and where do it," Emerson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "That may sound simple but we can only reach our goal of eliminating trachoma through a combination of joined-up efforts."

Trachoma can be prevented in childhood by having facilities for children to wash their faces and if caught soon enough the disease is easily treatable with repeated doses of antibiotics.   Continued...

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