Chronic disease: blinding trachoma

24 May 2006

Mzurisana suffers from blinding trachoma
WHO/Chris de Bode
Trachoma has seriously affected Msurisana's eyesight

Mzurisana’s story is the latest in a series about people living with chronic diseases. In a world where more and more people are dying as a result of chronic diseases, and many more millions are disabled, these stories aim to demonstrate the strong and personal impact of chronic diseases on people and their families.

Trachoma is an eye disease caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. Infection usually starts in infancy or childhood. If left untreated, years of repeated infection cause the eyelid to persistently turn inward and the eyelashes to rub on the eyeball. This results in intense pain and scarring of the cornea (the transparent part of the eyes), which ultimately leads to irreversible blindness. Trachoma is endemic in many of the poorest and most remote rural areas of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Australia and the Middle East.

Photo story

Mzurisana’s story: blinding trachoma

Strategy to eliminate blinding trachoma

Blinding trachoma is avoidable. The strategy to eliminate the disease is based on:

  • eyelid surgery
  • antibiotics to treat the infection
  • education about facial cleanliness and personal hygiene
  • environmental improvements

Community development and intensified action by WHO’s Global Alliance for the Elimination of Blinding Trachoma by 2020, has reduced the number of people with blinding trachoma. The estimated number of people affected by trachoma has fallen from 360 million people in 1985 to approximately 80 million people today.

To sustain, expand and secure these successes, there is still important work to be done. Increased investment in health and development can make the elimination of blinding trachoma a reality worldwide.

WHO gratefully acknowledges the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology, United Republic of Tanzania, which assisted WHO with this story.

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