Trachoma: how a standard reason behind blindness will be prevented worldwide


The world has seen a big decline in trachoma, however thousands and thousands are nonetheless in danger. How can we make extra progress in opposition to it?

A whole bunch of 1000’s of individuals worldwide are blind due to a illness referred to as trachoma. Trachoma is brought on by repeated bacterial infections, and other people endure eye ache for years earlier than they’ll doubtlessly go blind from the illness.

Data of trachoma date again 1000’s of years, and it was widespread throughout Africa, the Center East, South Asia, and South and Central America.1

Even as we speak, the illness is a serious infectious reason behind blindness worldwide. However it may be prevented.

Many international locations have lately eradicated or considerably decreased the illness by antibiotics, surgical procedure, improved sanitation, clear water and hygiene, and bug management.

This progress is a serious success story of public well being efforts, and with extra effort, the world can completely get rid of this painful reason behind blindness.

Trachoma is a watch illness brought on by particular strains of the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis.2

These micro organism are infectious and might unfold between folks by touching secretions from the eyes or nostril or from contaminated gadgets like clothes. It may also be unfold through flies, particularly some species which can be interested in human eyes.3

The micro organism infect the conjunctiva — the skinny, pink, tender internal layer of the eyelids — which ends up in irritation.

If folks have many repeated infections, the irritation scars the eyelids, which start to show inwards.4 The eyelashes then flip inwards and scratch the cornea (the clear floor of the eyes). In extreme instances, this causes the cornea to turn out to be clouded, which ultimately ends in everlasting blindness.5

Trachoma is extra widespread in rural areas and spreads simply between folks dwelling collectively, particularly in locations with poor sanitation and hygiene.6 Whereas it primarily infects youngsters, the later phases of scarring and blindness develop in maturity.7

Trachoma is a really painful illness. Other than the chance of blindness, it causes blurry imaginative and prescient, pink and swollen eyes, ache whereas blinking or sleeping, and imaginative and prescient loss. As a consequence, persons are extra susceptible to accidents, have issues with day by day life and work, and expertise social stigma.

It’s estimated that greater than 400,000 folks globally had been blind because of trachoma in 2021. As you may see within the chart under, it’s a significantly widespread reason behind blindness in Africa and South Asia.8

Click on to open interactive model

There are a number of methods to sort out trachoma and blindness.

First, the unfold of the Chlamydia trachomatis micro organism will be decreased. With extra entry to clear water and sanitation, higher waste administration, and hygiene, it turns into much less doubtless that the micro organism unfold between folks.9 Pesticides may also assist deter flies.10

Second, the illness will be prevented in individuals who have been contaminated. For instance, antibiotics similar to azithromycin and tetracycline can kill the micro organism inflicting the illness.11

For individuals who have progressed to later phases of the illness, there are additionally low cost surgical procedures, which reshape the affected person’s eyelids12 or take away in-turned eyelashes. These assist stop the clouding of the cornea and blindness.13

Trachoma is an historic illness that has been described in historic Egypt, China, and Greece. It’s much less widespread exterior tropical areas, however as lately because the Fifties, the World Well being Group reported that it was present in virtually each nation on the earth.1

Trachoma declined considerably in lots of richer international locations over the 20th century with enhancements in clear water, sanitation, rubbish assortment techniques, insect management packages, and the event of efficient antibiotics.14

Though it’s nonetheless widespread in poorer international locations, nice progress has been made in opposition to the illness in the previous few many years.

The maps under present the prevalence of early phases of trachoma in African youngsters, in response to surveys performed between 1996 and 2021.15

Within the first surveys, which had been largely performed within the early 2000s, greater than 10% of youngsters in lots of areas had trachoma. In some, greater than half of youngsters had the illness.

Nevertheless, by the latest surveys, the prevalence of trachoma shrunk vastly.

Of all of the areas surveyed, 92% had begun utilizing mass antibiotic remedy packages, and 77% of areas managed to scale back the prevalence of trachoma by 50% or extra.15

This image displays two maps of Africa side-by-side, comparing the prevalence of follicular trachoma in children aged 1-9 years across various regions from baseline surveys to the most recent surveys. The left map shows baseline data, while the right map shows more current data. Different colors on the maps indicate the percentage of children affected by trachoma: dark purple represents areas where less than 5% of children are affected, progressing through shades of purple and orange to red, where over 50% of children are affected. The image highlights the decline in trachoma prevalence due to large-scale health interventions like antibiotics, surgeries, and hygiene improvements from 1996 to 2021, based on surveys conducted in 38 countries and involving over 2.6 million people. This chart was created by Saloni Dattani at Our World in Data using data from the study by Kristen Renneker et al. (2022). Global progress toward the elimination of active trachoma:  an analysis of 38 countries.
Information comes from the International Trachoma Atlas, printed in Kristen Renneker et al. (2022).15

Quite a lot of progress has been made in poorer international locations in the previous few many years by deliberate public well being efforts.

In 1998, the World Well being Group established the “WHO Alliance for the International Elimination of Trachoma by 2020” (GET2020), which aimed to get rid of trachoma as a well being downside by 2020.

Though trachoma hasn’t but been eradicated, researchers estimate that the variety of folks prone to blindness from trachoma worldwide has declined considerably.15

The technique relied on gathering information — mapping the illness all the way down to the extent of neighborhoods within the poorest areas — which might assist information efforts to combat it and observe progress over time.

To do that, the “International Trachoma Mapping Undertaking” was launched in 2012, which was led by Sightsavers and funded by america Company for Worldwide Growth (USAID) and the Division for Worldwide Growth (DFID).

Researchers surveyed over 2.6 million folks throughout 35 international locations to determine individuals who had been contaminated or had developed the illness.16

They checked whether or not folks had developed eye signs, which helped to grasp which areas had increased charges of trachoma and the way many individuals had been in danger.17

Utilizing this information, international locations may direct antibiotics to populations at increased danger of trachoma. Worldwide efforts additionally supplied entry to surgical procedure, training on hygiene practices, and usually improved entry to wash water and sanitation.18

The chart under exhibits the variety of folks dwelling in areas the place trachoma is widespread and the quantity who’ve been handled with antibiotics or surgical procedure.

As you may see, over 100 million folks had been prone to trachoma in 2022.

That is decrease than it was prior to now as a result of the variety of folks handled with antibiotics has risen over time as the worldwide venture scaled up. The chart additionally exhibits that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted remedy packages.

Click on to open interactive model

These efforts in controlling trachoma have been very efficient.

In lots of areas, the prevalence of trachoma decreased vastly, as we noticed within the earlier part.

Eighteen international locations had been capable of cut back the illness sufficiently to get rid of the illness as a public well being downside as of 2023. They’re proven in blue on the map under.

Click on to open interactive model

There are two remaining challenges to eliminating trachoma.

First, the illness nonetheless persists on the earth’s poorest areas, and over 100 million persons are nonetheless in danger.

Second, continued efforts — similar to surgical procedures — are nonetheless wanted to deal with adults who’ve reached later phases of the illness.

By utilizing instruments extra extensively — similar to antibiotics, surgical procedures, clear water, sanitation, and pesticides — we may vastly cut back trachoma, particularly after disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A number of new applied sciences may additionally assist get rid of the illness. They embody improved fast assessments to diagnose contaminated folks, antibody assessments to review immunity towards the illness, new surgical strategies, and vaccines.9

Earlier analysis has proven that vaccines can present not less than short-term safety in opposition to the illness, which means that efficient vaccines might be developed. Nevertheless, just one trachoma vaccine candidate is in human trials as of 2024.19

Because the charts under present, analysis investments to deal with trachoma are very restricted and have declined lately.20

Our efforts to this point — mapping trachoma, offering antibiotics, surgical procedures, clear water, sanitation, waste administration, and bug management — present us that public well being initiatives can efficiently enhance the lives of thousands and thousands of individuals. There’s a clear path to eliminating this historic illness; we must always resolve to take it.


I’m very grateful to Kristen Renneker for offering this text’s geospatial and survey information. Ed Mathieu, Hannah Ritchie, and Max Roser additionally supplied invaluable suggestions on this text.

Discover extra information on uncared for tropical illnesses:

Uncared for Tropical Illnesses

Uncared for tropical illnesses have an effect on thousands and thousands of individuals regardless of the existence of low cost interventions to manage them.

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    writer = {Saloni Dattani},
    title = {Trachoma: how a standard reason behind blindness will be prevented worldwide},
    journal = {Our World in Information},
    yr = {2024},
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