International Coalition of Trachoma Control launches website with maps of where the WHO-endorsed SAFE strategy is being implemented
(Atlanta, GA —May 25) A global coalition that fights to control a blinding disease called trachoma launched a website today that shows where international development organizations support national Ministries of Health in implementing the SAFE strategy. SAFE – endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) – is an innovative public health approach that combines trachoma treatment (Surgery and Antibiotics) with prevention (Facial-cleanliness and Environmental improvement).
The International Coalition of Trachoma Control (ICTC) website is at http://www.trachomacoalition.org. Trachoma is the world's leading cause of infectious blindness. The ICTC includes partners who are committed to supporting trachoma- endemic countries reach the goal of elimination of blinding trachoma by the year 2020, said Dr. Paul Emerson, director of the Carter Center's Trachoma Control Program and chair of the ICTC.
“The individual achievements of donors and non-governmental organizations committed to eliminating blinding trachoma are impressive, but the combined output will demonstrate that by sharing a common goal and vision, we really can make the disease history,” said Emerson.
The ICTC website is a “powerful tool for the entire trachoma community,” said Dr. KH Martin Kollmann, vice-chair of ICTC. The ICTC website includes resources from WHO, VISION 2020, and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).
“As a comprehensive online resource, the ICTC website will feature and disseminate relevant information from a wide variety of experts, both individuals and organizations. This will make the ICTC website a much needed hub and sharing point for all players in the trachoma community, “ said Kollmann, who is also the program director for Neglected Tropical Diseases at CBM, an international Christian disability and inclusive development organization.
Trachoma can be prevented and treated, and blinding trachoma can be eliminated as a public health threat if the full SAFE strategy is implemented in endemic areas.
NGOs are “one of the backbones of trachoma control,” according to Mr. Chad MacArthur, director of NTD control, and training and community education at Helen Keller International, which works to prevent blindness and malnutrition around the world.
MacArthur, past chair of the ICTC, said the coalition is “a forum to make sure that we stay in tune with each other, that we work as synergistically as possible, with the realization that if we're going to achieve our goals, it's going to have to be in partnership and not in competition with each other.”
Trachoma is estimated to be endemic in 57 countries and is responsible for 1.3 million cases of blindness worldwide. An estimated 41 million people, mostly women and children in poorer countries, have active trachoma. Repeated trachoma infections of the upper eyelid lead to scarring and inturned eyelashes, which rub on the cornea, a condition called trichiasis. This can eventually cause blindness.
Women, traditionally the caretakers of the home, are twice as likely as men to have trichiasis. When a woman can no longer perform vital activities for her household, an older daughter is often removed from school to assume her mother's duties, thus losing her opportunity for a formal education.
The ICTC website was created by the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) at The Task Force for Global Health, Atlanta, GA. It complements the Trachoma Atlas at http://www.trachomaatlas.org, which has country maps with population-based prevalence data on trachoma. Both websites are open-access, and the maps are free. They are intended for public health professionals and managers of trachoma control programs as well as the general public interested in learning about the disease.
Mapping and assessing the magnitude of blinding trachoma is critical to defining areas that are priority for implementing control efforts, monitoring changes, and advocating for prevention and treatment.
Emerson said the ICTC website is “a dynamic portal” that features “essential background information on the disease, current images, and stories from the field.” He added that visitors to the website can “find out 'at a glance' the considerable progress being made in the global trachoma control program.”