Treating Trachoma in the Developing World

  • BY Lainie Petersen

blind indigenous

I recently read a column by journalist Nicholas Kristof about efforts to treat and eliminate several devastating and deadly diseases within the developing world. While I was familiar with some of these diseases, such as polio and leprosy, he also mentioned trachoma, a devastating eye disease of which I had never heard. When I read the article, I was not only shocked to learn of the disease’s existence, but also the importance of helping developing nations prevent and treat the disease before it claims its victim’s eyesight.

Trachoma: A Leading Preventable Cause of Blindness

As the World Health Organization explains, Trachoma is an eye disease caused by a bacteria called chlamydia trachomatis, which is spread through contact with contaminated water and infected flies, as well as person-to-person contact. If left untreated, the condition can eventually cause a malformation of the eyelid, which leads to cornea damage as a sufferer’s eyelashes repeatedly scratch the eye. The condition is not only painful, but can cause permanent blindness. Losing one’s eyesight is bad no matter where it happens, but for those living in the developing world, vision loss is particularly devastating, as there are often few social, educational or medical resources for the blind.

Tragically, the suffering caused by trachoma is preventable, but prevention depends on a number of factors, including access to education, clean water, and medical care. Programs in the developing world concentrate on improving hygiene standards and access to clean water while also providing proper diagnosis of the condition while it can still be treated with antibiotic medication. Once the disease has progressed to the point that the eyelid is deformed, surgery (with an 80%) can be performed by trained nurses. According to Helen Keller International, this cost of this surgery starts at only $40.


How You Can Help

If you are interested in helping to fight trachoma, consider making a donation to or volunteering for an organization that provides eye health care and education services in the developing world. Another option is to work with a charity that helps the developing world gain access to clean water supplies. Whichever option you choose, your help can help save people from horrific and completely unnecessary suffering