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02.10.2008 Press Release


By Geoffrey Knox

BBC to air documentary on new strategies to address trachoma and other neglected tropical diseases in Niger; new film from Ghana shows gains being made against trachoma

As global attention is focused on blindness and vision impairment for World Sight Day 2008—October 9—the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) is highlighting two new films that show significant progress and formidable challenges in eliminating trachoma, the world's leading cause of preventable blindness. The theme of World Sight Day 2008 is Eyes on the Future and focuses on vision impairment in older people, noting that 90% of blind people live in low-income countries, where older people often face barriers to health care. Within each film, a compelling story is told of an elderly person rescued from blindness caused by trachoma, a neglected tropical disease (NTD) that is both preventable and treatable.

“World Sight Day is a time to celebrate our tremendous progress and confront the enormous challenges we face in the fight against preventing blindness,” said Ibrahim Jabr, president of ITI. “The world has a realistic goal for global elimination of trachoma by 2020 —the GET 2020 goal—but we must aggressively leverage our limited resources and scale up our efforts to engage governments and communities in trachoma endemic countries.”

BBC Documentary on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)
On Saturday, October 4, the BBC will air the first of an eight-part documentary series on global health entitled “Survival.” This first film focuses on an ambitious national treatment program to tackle three NTDs—trachoma, schistosomiasis, and lymphatic filiariasis—in Niger, West Africa. Niger's government, working with ITI and other non-governmental organizations, has organized everyday citizens into a corps of 17,000 community distributors to dispense antibiotics such as Pfizer-donated Zithromax, which is used to treat and prevent trachoma.

ITI's Niger country representative, Samna Mohammed, appears in the 50-minute film to discuss Niger's National Trachoma Control Program (NTCP). Since its creation in 2001, Niger's NTCP has:

offered over 31,000 people suffering from trachoma sight-saving surgery.
administered over 15.7 million treatments of Pfizer-donated Zithromax.

In 2007, Niger's NTCP was integrated with four other NTD-control programs. As a result of this integration, an additional 50% of the population has been treated for trachoma.

ITI Documentary on Ghana
A new documentary created by ITI shows how Ghana is on track to eliminate blinding trachoma by 2010. The prevalence of trachoma in children aged 1-9 years has dropped dramatically in some districts to well below the WHO accepted level of 5%. In June 2008, ITI joined with Ghana Health Services and other NGO partners working with Ghana's NTCP to announce impressive results. Since the inception of the Ghana NTCP in 2000 until 2007:

4,542 people diagnosed with trichiasis have been provided with sight-saving surgery.
over 3.4 million doses of Zithromax valued at over $60 million have been administered to treat community members in trachoma endemic districts.

The documentary on Ghana and trachoma control can be viewed on the ITI website at

For general information on World Sight Day 2008, visit the World Sight Day page on the Vision 2020 website at

The International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) is a non-governmental organization working to prevent, treat and ultimately eliminate trachoma, a neglected tropical disease (NTD) and the world's leading cause of preventable blindness. Building on trachoma elimination success in Morocco, ITI currently works in 15 countries in Africa and Asia. ITI is a major proponent and facilitator of the SAFE strategy to prevent and eliminate trachoma through Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvement. ITI, created through a public-private partnership of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and Pfizer Inc, collaborates with international agencies, governmental, and non-governmental organizations to build targeted support—including Zithromax® donated by Pfizer—for expanded implementation of the SAFE strategy, operational research and program evaluation, education and advocacy.