Sightsavers Collaborative Campaigns to Eliminate Trachoma

The Chief Executive of Sightsavers, Caroline Harper, visited Vancouver to discuss in her TED talk, an affliction called trachoma, which is considered one of the leading causes of blindness around the world. She wore symbolic tweezers to represent how African girls who have suffered from the disease for many years, have to spend their entire lives pulling their eyelashes from under their eyelids because of lack of treatment from the disease to avoid scratching their corneas which leads to blindness.

Harper’s article on Sightsavers goes on to give a long history of the disease which has its earliest recorded medical record in ancient Egypt when an ancient mural was found showing eyes and tweezers. Today, people in the lowest economic rungs of society are the most susceptible to the disease with nearly 185 million people susceptible to trachoma. The most unfortunate part is that it is actually preventable.

In 2012, the country of Oman was recognized as the first to have eradicated trachoma as a dangerous and chronic public health issue. By 2016, Morocco was able to announce it had followed suit as well as Mexico, Cambodia, and Laos who eliminated the disease in 2017. There are six more countries on the brink of expunging trachoma from its shores as well. Ghana, who is on the verge of having a trachoma-free society will be the first sub-Saharan African country to eliminate it.

All of this progress toward destroying trachoma throughout the world shows that it can be done. Harper believes that the fundamental component to success is a collaboration between the communities, health agencies, donors, and even drug companies that contribute the drugs the combat the dreaded disease. INGOs like Sightsavers, who are members of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control share in the world-vision, specifically the World Health Organization’s SAFE-strategy campaign.

SAFE is an acronym for surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness, and environmental improvement. This is a plan that has formed into a global initiative against trachoma and it names the resources, actions, and strategies that are being put in place wherever a community is fighting trachoma. For example, when a child is taught to wash their face to prevent trachoma, this small lesson is passed on to other children in the community. Something so small is what is making the difference. The Tropical Data service, according to Harper, is supporting the efforts with data collection that is for the first time documenting the success of the programs that are currently in place all over the world.

The collaborative teams that are in countries currently utilizing the SAFE programs use the technology on their smartphones to transmit their collected information for analysis. This allows a much faster turn-over in results and it means that these collaborative teams can use important data no matter where they are from even the most remote areas.

At the TED2018 conference, Harper announced a new trachoma project called the Audacious Project. TED will host and show its support for this project which has support from major non-profit organizations and philanthropists around the globe. This new project brings trachoma to the forefront so that the necessary resources can be put towards eliminating the disease everywhere. This ongoing project will be followed by another initiative from UK aid with the announcement of a commitment of 20 million toward at least 10 commonwealth countries for resources to fight the disease through 2020 called the new Commonwealth 2018-2020 Fund which will be organized through Sightsavers.

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