Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter joined Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) today to commemorate the 15 th Anniversary of the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), an independent, not-for-profit program dedicated to the elimination of blinding trachoma as a public health concern. Trachoma is an infectious eye disease that is a leading cause of blindness and suffering in the poorest regions of the world. Pfizer has provided hundreds of millions of doses of the antibiotic Zithromax® (azithromycin) to help the global campaign wipe out blinding trachoma by the year 2020.
In the early 1900s, trachoma could be found in New York City, where Pfizer is located, and in President Carter’s hometown of Plains, Ga. The leading cause of infectious blindness, trachoma was eliminated from the United States in the 1970s. Today, trachoma remains in the world’s most isolated and neglected communities. Approximately 320 million people worldwide are at risk for contracting trachoma, with about 7 million suffering from the advanced, blinding stage of the disease.After years of untreated trachoma infections, the eyelids turn inward, and the lashes scrape the cornea with every excruciating blink, damaging vision. Women and children suffer most from trachoma, which blinds one person every 15 minutes. On Nov. 10, the 100 millionth Carter Center-assisted dose of Zithromax is expected to be distributed in Amhara Region, Ethiopia, during a celebration with the Ethiopian government, Pfizer, ITI, the Lions Clubs International Foundation and Lions of Ethiopia, and other partners. The Amhara Region is thought to be the most trachoma-endemic area in the world, and together the partners are actively working to demonstrate that blinding trachoma can be eliminated from a highly endemic country. Already, The Carter Center, together with the Ministry of Health and other partners in Ethiopia, has helped demonstrate that community-directed infrastructures for preventing trachoma can mobilize millions of people to accept treatment and adopt behavior changes to improve their own lives, even in remote areas where there is limited access to basic medical care, water and sanitation. The international trachoma campaign uses the SAFE strategy, approved by the WHO, to prevent and treat trachoma. SAFE stands for: Surgery to prevent blindness; Antibiotics to treat active infections; Facial cleanliness; and Environmental improvements, such as latrines to reduce the breeding grounds of flies that help spread the disease. Using these interventions, Ghana, Morocco, Oman, Vietnam, Iran and The Gambia have all achieved great success against this debilitating infection. Mali, Niger, and Sudan also are on track to make significant inroads in their fight against blinding trachoma by 2015.
- VIDEO & PHOTOS: High resolution photos and broadcast-quality video related to the ITI are available here.