Trachoma: more drugs pledged to fight “disease of thorns”

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Drug company Pfizer has announced it will extend its donations of antibiotics to treat the debilitating eye disease trachoma for five years.

Pfizer initially said its donation of the drug Zithromax would end in 2020, the target for the worldwide elimination of the disease. Now it has said that the drugs will be available until 2025 “to help all endemic countries reach their targets”.

Trachoma, the leading infectious cause of blindness in the world, is an incredibly painful condition where, if left untreated, the eyelashes turn inwards, scraping against the eyeballs. Less serious cases can be treated with antibiotics, while more severe cases require surgery.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.9million people around the world have impaired vision as a result of the disease. It is prevalent in 40 developing countries around the world, all of which are reliant on Pfizer’s free antibiotics.

Antibiotics are a key weapon in the fight against trachoma, alongside good sanitation and surgery.

Significant progress has been made in reducing the number of people suffering from the disease in recent years, with the number slashed by 44 per cent in the last 11 years.

Nepal became the sixth country to have eliminated trachoma, joining Oman, Morocco, Mexico, Cambodia and Laos.

Trachoma | Key facts

  • If left untreated trachoma causes the upper eyelid to turn inwards so that the eyelashes rub the eyeball, resulting in intense pain and scarring
  • Infections spread through contact with infected flies and personal contact via hands, clothes or bedding
  • The disease thrives in crowded living conditions where there are shortages of water, inadequate sanitation and numerous eye-seeking flies
  • In 2017, 42 countries were affected by trachoma, 182 million people were at risk of going blind and 1.9m were blind or visually impaired because of the disease

Paul Emerson, director of the International Trachoma Initiative, highlighted the progress made in eliminating the disease.

“Continued antibiotic donations are essential to maintaining this progresss, and while much work remains, I am more confident than ever that we can eliminate this ancient disease within the next decade,” he said.

Simon Bush, director of neglected tropical diseases at the charity Sightsavers, said Zithromax was vital in the fight against trachoma.

“This horrible disease can lead to enormous pain and eventual blindness, but can be easily prevented and treated with this drug along with surgery, improved sanitation and access to clean water,” he said.

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