Trachoma is often described as like having “hair in the eyes.” But the disease, easily spread through casual contact, is far more than a nuisance. The bacterial infection causes the eyelashes to turn inward and rub against the cornea. Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. LCIF and The Carter Center partner in Africa to treat those suffering from trachoma and prevent its spread. The longtime Lions- Carter Center SightFirst initiative has saved millions from blindness. The initiative’s efforts in Ethiopia represent the largest trachoma control and elimination program in the world. An estimated 16 million Ethiopians in the Amhara region are treated annually, says Elizabeth Callahan, director of The Carter Center’s Trachoma Control Program. Helping implement the plan is Dr. Tebebe Yemane Berhan of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a Lion and a member of the LCIF Board of Directors in 2015-16. “Trachoma control is so important in our nation,” says Berhan. “Affected children can’t attend school, and people can develop blindness. But they are easily treated with antibiotics, and it can be prevented by self-hygiene.” Trachoma is found in poor, isolated communities that lack clean water and adequate sanitation, says Callahan, a Lion in Georgia. The disease is especially prevalent among women and their children. The Lions-Carter Sight First initiative in Ethiopia is four-pronged: surgical intervention on turned-in eyelids, antibiotics to knock out the infection, education on personal hygiene and improvements to a community’s treatment of human waste. More than 2.5 million latrines have been built to eliminate open-air breeding grounds for flies, which are a principal carrier of the infection. Lions have also worked on 113 safe-water projects in area of trachoma infection. Global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has donated the antibiotic Zithromax for distribution. Thanks to Lions, a child in China is checked for trachoma. In 2016, more than 17,000 primary school teachers in 7,500 schools will be trained to teach their students about trachoma and the proper hygiene that’s needed to stop its spread. In 2015, the program distributed Zithromax and Tretacycline eye ointment to nearly 17 million people. More than 36,000 health workers took part. Lions were key participants—managing workers, monitoring outreach and doing advocacy among state officials. Ethiopian surgeons have also been trained to carry out trichiasis surgery, which can halt the descent into blindness. More than half of the world’s trichiasis surgeries are done through the SightFirst program. “Through our partnership with the Lions, we have demonstrated to the rest of the world that a trachoma control program can be brought to scale and deliver,” says Callahan.
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