Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education



Front Page

World

UK

UK Politics

Business

Sci/Tech

Health

Education

Sport

Entertainment

Talking Point
On Air
Feedback
Low Graphics
Help

Wednesday, November 11, 1998 Published at 10:50 GMT


Health

Campaign targets leading cause of blindness

Mali is one of the countries targeted

An international initiative has been launched to combat an eye disease that has blinded 6 million people in the world's poorest countries.

Trachoma is a painful infection that is spread when children wipe their eyes and pass on the disease to others.

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer has joined forces with health officials in five of the most afflicted nations to distribute an antibiotic that can successfully treat the disease.

The antibiotic known as Zithromax is so powerful that patients may need just one dose a year.

The campaign, to be launched in Ghana, Mali, Morocco, Tanzania and Vietnam, will also teach children that simply washing their faces with clean water will get rid of the infection.

Tremendous impact


[ image: Children spread disease by rubbing their eyes]
Children spread disease by rubbing their eyes
Pfizer spokeswoman Paula Luff said: "The disease is largely forgotten, but the impact is tremendous on families and communities."

Trachoma was once a worldwide threat. Napoleon's troops encountered it in Egypt in 1798. It blinded early Americans, and was one of the most common causes for rejecting would-be immigrants to the US at Ellis Island.

With improved sanitation, trachoma was eliminated from North America and Europe. But the disease remains the world's leading preventable cause of blindness, infecting 150 million people in developing countries.

The infection is spread person-to-person, mostly by children as they rub red, sticky eyes or flies pick up the germs from faces which have not been washed because clean water is so scarce.

Repeated infections over the years scar the upper eyelid, eventually causing the thin tissue to recede so that the eyelashes literally scratch the cornea, and in many cases cause blindness.

Some people wear tweezers around their necks to pluck the painful lashes, but they can grow back.

Painful treatment

Since the 1950s, treatment has meant applying an ointment of the antibiotic tetracycline directly to the eyes twice a day for six weeks.

Thick as toothpaste, the ointment stung and children in particular did not see the course of treatment through.

Now Pfizer-sponsored studies show that one dose of oral Zithromax, widely used to fight other infections, works just as well.

The new campaign will include:

  • Training nurses to perform a simple operation to stop the eyelashes damaging the eye.
  • Teaching children to wash their faces.
  • Distribution of Zithromax.
  • Water sanitation programmes.

The campaign has been endorsed by the World Health Organization, which hopes to eliminate the disease by 2020.



Advanced options | Search tips




Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©


Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

01 Oct 98 | Health
Pesticide link to eye abnormalities

21 Jul 98 | Health
Look this way, please

28 May 98 | Latest News
Elderly turn a blind eye to vision problems





Internet Links


Trachoma research

Trachoma

Zithromax


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.




In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99