"This milestone highlights what is possible when partners work together toward a common goal and signifies remarkable achievement in our fight to eliminate trachoma globally," said Virginia Sarah, chair, International Coalition for Trachoma Control, an alliance of organizations committed to supporting national program efforts in more than 30 countries to eliminate trachoma using the SAFE strategy, an approach that includes antibiotic treatment. "Our collective efforts are helping to reduce the impacts of this ancient, preventable disease on affected individuals, families and communities."
Trachoma is an infectious disease, which can develop into a condition in which eyelids turn in and eyelashes scrape the eyeball, causing great pain, corneal ulcers and irreversible blindness. There are 232 million people in 58 countries at risk, with more than 80 percent of the global burden of the disease concentrated in 14 countries, mostly in Africa. Trachoma is responsible for the visual impairment of approximately 2.2 million people, 1.2 million of whom are irreversibly blind. It threatens entire socio-economic infrastructures and as a result, is estimated to cause USD $3-6 billion in lost productivity per year across affected countries.
"I am extremely grateful to Pfizer for having donated 500 million doses of Zithromax in the fight against blinding trachoma to date," said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, founder of The Carter Center, a pioneer and partner in disease elimination activities. "The Carter Center is proud to have distributed more than 25 percent of those doses in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, the most trachoma-endemic area of the world, along with our partners Lions Clubs International Foundation and the Federal Ministry of Health. Together, we remain committed to eliminating blinding trachoma and reducing unnecessary suffering."
Partners celebrating today are working as part of The World Health Organization (WHO)-led Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET 2020) (link is external). This Alliance is a unique collaboration of more than 100 governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector partners implementing a WHO-recommended strategy called "SAFE" that combines:
- Surgery to treat the blinding stage of the disease,
- Antibiotics to treat infection, particularly administration of Zithromax,
- Facial cleanliness to help reduce transmission, and
- Environmental improvement, particularly improving access to water and sanitation.
This integrated strategy ensures that the positive impacts of antibiotic treatments are sustained through improved hygiene, while surgery ensures that those who cannot be cured are still treated to alleviate their discomfort and improve their quality of life. Since the Alliance was formed in 1998, partners have treated more than one hundred million people in 33 countries. In 2012, Oman became the first country to achieve WHO validation of trachoma elimination. In addition, China, Gambia, Ghana, Iran, Morocco, Myanmar and Vietnam have all reported the achievement of elimination goals to WHO, and are awaiting outcomes of the validation process.*
"At Pfizer we believe that access to quality healthcare and the opportunity to lead healthy lives is an extremely important social goal," said Ian Read, chief executive officer, Pfizer. "The power and value of collaboration between public and private organizations in achieving that goal cannot be overstated. We are proud to work with our international partners on this mission to help end trachoma by 2020."
Expansion of Ethiopian Program Begins Today
The burden of trachoma remains highest in Ethiopia, with 75 million people at risk, and the Federal Ministry of Health is working with Alliance partners to significantly expand the number of people in Ethiopia who are treated. Today, delegations from the U.K. and U.S. governments, NGOs and Pfizer are gathering in the Wolisso region of Ethiopia to celebrate the donation of the 500 millionth Zithromax dose and a significant expansion of the national trachoma elimination program in the country.
"Trachoma is on track for elimination as a public health problem in many countries thanks to the dedication of national programs, support of a coalition of partners and stakeholders and the collaboration of affected communities" said Dr. Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho, WHO assistant director-general for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases. "Tackling this leading infectious cause of blindness through the SAFE strategy yields additional benefits against other diseases of poverty, and provides an important opportunity to improve the overall health and livelihood of endemic populations."
"As we celebrate our great progress, it is critical that we remain steadfast in our efforts to eliminate trachoma from the lives of everyone it affects," said Dr. Paul Emerson, director, International Trachoma Initiative, the ICTC member organization that manages Pfizer's Zithromax donation. "We have the partners, tools and momentum to beat this debilitating disease, and we are driving toward 2020 with a sense of urgency and determination. Together we can help ensure that all people of all nations will never have to endure the horror caused by trachoma."
About The Alliance for GET 2020
The WHO-led Alliance for Global Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020 (GET 2020) is a network of partners who are working across the globe to implement the SAFE strategy in areas most in need. Commitments and funding for these activities are provided by government agencies, including United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID), Pfizer Inc. and members of ICTC. Alliance members celebrating today include The Carter Center, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Helen Keller International, International Trachoma Initiative, Light for the World, Lions Clubs International Foundation, Orbis International, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, RTI International, Sightsavers, and many others.
About Pfizer Inc.
At Pfizer, we apply science and our global resources to bring therapies to people that extend and significantly improve their lives. We strive to set the standard for quality, safety and value in the discovery, development and manufacture of health care products. Our global portfolio includes medicines and vaccines as well as many of the world's best-known consumer health care products. Every day, Pfizer colleagues work across developed and emerging markets to advance wellness, prevention, treatments and cures that challenge the most feared diseases of our time. Consistent with our responsibility as one of the world's premier innovative biopharmaceutical companies, we collaborate with health care providers, governments and local communities to support and expand access to reliable, affordable health care around the world. For more than 150 years, Pfizer has worked to make a difference for all who rely on us.