Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are a group of parasitic and bacterial infections that affect over one billion people worldwide. They’re most prevalent in poor and underserved communities in developing countries. These diseases can have long-term impacts including blindness, and even death if left untreated. One such disease is trachoma, a bacterial eye infection that is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world.
Trachoma is categorized into two stages: active and late-stage disease. During the active stage, symptoms include eye discharge, itching, and swelling of the eyelids. If left untreated, the disease can progress to the late stage, where eyelashes turn inwards and scratch the cornea. This condition, known as trachomatous trichiasis, can cause irreversible blindness.
The good news is that trachoma is preventable and treatable.
How OPC is Fighting Trachoma
At the Organization for the Prevention of Blindness (OPC), we are working tirelessly to fight NTDs in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR), two landlocked countries in central Africa. Countries such as these in Francophone Africa have some of the highest rates of trachoma prevalence in the world.
OPC’s approach to fighting NTDs involves a multi-pronged strategy that includes preventive measures, treatment, and education. One of our key initiatives is the implementation of the SAFE strategy (Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness, and Environmental improvement) recommended by our partner, the World Health Organization (WHO), to combat trachoma.
Surgery involves the correction of trachomatous trichiasis, the condition where eyelashes grow inward. Antibiotics are used to treat active trachoma infection, while facial cleanliness and environmental improvements are measures to prevent further transmission of the disease.
Combining Forces to Combat Trachoma
In addition to the SAFE strategy, OPC also works closely with local communities to raise awareness about NTDs and promote hygiene and sanitation practices. This includes educating individuals on the importance of washing their hands, keeping their surroundings clean, and seeking medical attention if they suspect they may have a NTD.
OPC also partners with the government of Chad and other NGOs to implement mass prescription drug administration campaigns. These campaigns involve the distribution of medication to entire communities to prevent and treat NTDs.
The work of OPC, thanks to our generous donors and partners*, has already made a significant impact in Francophone Africa. Since our interventions began in 2014, the prevalence of active trachoma in Chad has decreased by 50%. This means that millions of people are now able to live their lives without the fear of blindness or disability due to trachoma.
In 2022 alone, 1466 people in Chad benefited from a surgery to stop their eyelashes from permanently damaging their cornea, thus saving them from blindness. We also launched a new and innovative program, which aims at achieving full geographic coverage of trachomatous trichiasis cases screening and care. Thousands of health and community workers started going door to door, ensuring that all remaining cases are found, offered treatment and properly documented, in all endemic regions including the most remote and isolated communities. This process is key to be able to prove the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem in the country before 2030.
Despite the progress made, there is still much work to be done. Millions of people around the world still suffer from trachoma, and blindness caused by the disease remains irreversible – especially in Francophone Africa.
The fight against NTDs is a complex and challenging one, but OPC is committed to making a difference in the lives of those affected by these diseases. Through continued efforts and collaborations, we hope to one day eliminate these diseases for good.
*Sightsavers international, Lions Club International Foundation, Fondation Théa