A disease that has been blinding humans since the time of the ancient Egyptians is on the verge of being eliminated for good.

Trachoma – the world’s leading form of infectious blindness – is a public health problem in 43 countries and is right now putting 157.7million people are at risk. Thanks to collaboration between communities, governments, donors and international organisations massive progress is being made towards trachoma elimination – in fact since 2011 the number of people at risk of trachoma has decreased by over 50 per cent.

Whilst this progress has been incredible more support is needed to end trachoma entirely – in response to this need a funding pledge of $105m was made to help take elimination over the finish line. This fund and latest step in eliminating trachoma was announced by Richard Branson via recorded video link at the star-studded Global Citizen concert in Johannesburg on December 2nd.

Richard Branson represented a collaboration of funders who are backing The Accelerate Trachoma Elimination Programme – led by the charity Sightsavers –  the funders include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), The ELMA Foundation UK, UK aid and Virgin Unite.

Virgin Unite, Audacious Project, Sightsavers
Khady, 8, from Senegal receives her annual dose of Zithromax from Community Directed Distributors

Accelerate was born from the Audacious Project, a joint endeavour housed at TED, which funds critical projects that have the potential to create massive, global change. It chose trachoma elimination as one of these Audacious ideas and builds on the announcement UK aid made in April 2018 to boost elimination efforts through the Commonwealth 2018-2020 Fund. Collectively, these opportunities will support at least ten African countries eliminate trachoma as a public health risk and speed up progress in several others, where the burden of the disease is highest, by 2023.

Some of the most trusted names in modern philanthropy are now coming together to accelerate elimination efforts and make a huge contribution to getting us closer to the finish line.

Dr Caroline Harper, Chief Executive of Sightsavers, said: “It is now within our grasp to be part of history and stop trachoma in its tracks. This persistent disease blights the world’s poorest communities and traps people into lives of intense pain. It can turn eyelashes inwards so that with every blink they scrape against the ball of the eye, slowly and torturously turning people blind. Yet it is treatable and preventable. Some of the most trusted names in modern philanthropy are now coming together to accelerate elimination efforts and make a huge contribution to getting us closer to the finish line. More is needed but this will be a key intervention.”

Virgin Unite, Audacious Project, Sightsavers
Givemore Mafukidze has been delivering trachoma treatments across Mbire, a rural district in northern Zimbabwe for ten years

Frontline health officials like Givemore Mafukidze are delivering the treatment and  supporting the most vulnerable people in  the hardest to reach places with treatment and information. Givemore is from Zimbabwe, one of the countries where the project will help eliminate trachoma. He said he was hopeful that his country would be free of trachoma soon and this would make a real difference to the people there.

He explained: “When I see a child with trachoma I know that at some point this condition could have been avoided. If this condition goes on, you know that at some point in time they may end up blind. When someone goes blind, it’s a burden to the family, to the community, to the nation. “It makes me very happy to see a child with trachoma being treated because I know the impact it will have on the child’s life, wellbeing and welfare. I will be certain that this child is likely to have a better future.”

Virgin Unite, Audacious Project, Sightsavers
Awa and Arame Ndiaye sisters from Senegal who both had TT surgery

The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 featured performances from world-renowned names including Beyonce, Jay Z, and Ed Sheeran. As well as celebrating the legacy of Nelson Mandela, a key theme of the concert is improving health for all, in particular rallying support to end neglected tropical diseases like trachoma, which affect those living in some of the world’s most marginalised communities.

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