This post was written by Chad MacArthur, Helen Keller International’s Director of Neglected Tropical Disease Control.
Days before the Olympics opened in London, I attended meetings at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as the city was beginning to bustle with excitement. My interest was in something completely different.
The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) recently awarded our partner organization, Sightsavers, 10.6 million pounds ($16.4 million) to spearhead the completion of the global mapping of trachoma. There are currently more than 1,200 districts throughout the world that are suspected of being endemic for this blinding disease but we have no scientific information to verify this suspicion. Epidemiological data is necessary to justify interventions and understand the scale of the problem so resources can be directed where they will do the most good. This is especially true for the distribution of Zithromax, the drug Pfizer, Inc. donates through the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), that treats this blinding disease. In the 15 years that I have been working in trachoma and other Neglected Tropical Diseases, disease mapping has been challenging to make happen due to limited funding. In fact, over the past 15 years we have only been able to map 1,100 districts. potentially leaving thousands of people at risk of blindness because we have not yet identified how widespread the problem is.
Things have slowly been changing for the better. In 2006, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) initiated its Neglected Tropical Disease control program, which recognized the importance of having baseline data. These funds resulted in a surge of trachoma mapping. The award from DFID will complement this work; it is expected that all mapping will be completed by the year 2014 providing time to implement programs and meet the global target date of eliminating blinding trachoma by the year 2020.
It is very rewarding for Helen Keller International – which is part of the Sightsavers consortium – and me personally to be a part of a global movement that will save millions of people from unnecessary blindness.
Click here to read the official press release.