Published On: Wed, Nov 6th, 2013

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Pfizer celebrate the 15th anniversary of the International Trachoma Initiative and their campaign to eliminate trachoma by 2020

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter joined Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) today to commemorate the 15th 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.

Trachoma   Carter Center Video Screen Shot

Trachoma Carter Center Video Screen Shot

“The Pfizer donation of Zithromax was momentous in trachoma control, and The Carter Center was pleased to go to scale in trachoma endemic countries to get the medicine into the villages and demonstrate the world could end blinding trachoma,” President Carter said during a celebration with partners, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and Pfizer employees at the company’s headquarters in Manhattan.

“The progress and success of the trachoma campaign is something every Pfizer colleague can be proud of.  Through the 15-year partnership, millions of people worldwide will be spared the injustice, indignity and pain of their eyelashes scratching and scarring their eyes,” added President Carter, founder of The Carter Center, a pioneer in disease eradication and elimination activities.

Pfizer, through the ITI, has donated more than 340 million doses of the antibiotic to date to prevent and treat trachoma in support of the World Health Organization (WHO)-led Global Alliance for the Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020.

“We are honored to have President Carter join Pfizer to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the ITI program and gratified about the progress that has been made toward eliminating blinding trachoma as a public health concern,” said Ian Read, Pfizer Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.  “Pfizer joins President Carter and others in envisioning a world where blinding trachoma has been eliminated.  I speak for the entire Pfizer community in reiterating our desire, along with partners like The Carter Center and ITI, to helping end the suffering by 2020.”

ITI has managed the distribution of the antibiotic to 28 countries in Africa and Asia since 1998, said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, interim director of ITI.  “Trachoma brings extraordinary human suffering and economic devastation to tens of millions of people, mostly women and children in poorer countries,” Dr. Rosenberg said.  “It can be prevented, treated and eliminated.”

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.

Trachoma is a  horribly disabling disease that is virtually unknown to many Americans. It is responsible for an estimated 7-8 million cases of permanent blindness particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

The organism that causes trachoma is Chlamydia trachomatis serovars A-C. These types are different from the types of Chlamydia that commonly cause the sexually transmitted infection that is so prevalent here in the United States.

Not only is trachoma a health issue in Africa and the Middle East but it is also endemic on the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and China. Pockets of trachoma are seen in Latin America and Australia. It is estimated that 84 million people, particularly children and mothers are infected in over 50 countries.

This is definitely a disease of the poor with poverty, poor personal hygiene and crowded living conditions being a few of the main factors contributing to its spread. It is also more commonly found in areas where the climate is dusty and dry.

The infectious agent is transmitted person to person through contact with eye or nasal discharges on fingers and indirectly through the use of contaminated items such as towels, pillows and clothes items like a mother’s shawl.

Flies are also a carrier of the contaminated discharge from person to person after feeding on the eye discharge of an infected person. In Africa and the Middle East, a specific specie of fly, Musca sorbens, is responsible for much of the spread.

Initially the infection resemble “pink eye” where there is inflammation of the eye, pain and sensitivity to light. Also the eye produces a watery discharge and the infection and inflammation resolves itself. The severity of trachoma is the result of frequent reinfection of the eye which over time causes scarring on the inner upper eyelid.

The resulting network of scarring over time causes an in-turning of the eyelashes (trichiasis) and entropian.

This results in a chronic abrasion of the cornea from the contact from the eyelashes. The scratching of the cornea also results in additional eye infections which in combination cause the cornea to turn opaque and blindness is the final result.

This endemic childhood disease is seen in up to 90 percent of children in rural areas of the countries listed above. Women, due to taking care of children are at least 3 times more likely to get infected than men.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed the S.A.F.E. strategy to control and prevent trachoma. It consists of lid surgery (S), antibiotics (A), teaching kids to keep their face clean and personal hygiene (F), better sanitation and waste disposal or the environmental factors (E).

The International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) was founded in 1998 in response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) call to eliminate blinding trachoma by 2020 (GET2020).  ITI’s founding partners, Pfizer and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, saw the need for an international nongovernmental organization dedicated solely to the elimination of blinding trachoma.  To achieve that goal, ITI collaborates with governmental and nongovernmental agencies at the local, national and international levels to implement the WHO-recommended SAFE strategy for trachoma control (Surgery; Antibiotics—using donated Zithromax; Facial cleanliness; and Environmental improvement).  ITI is based at The Task Force for Global Health in Decatur, Ga.  ITI manages the donation of antibiotics by Pfizer.

The Carter Center has been a leader in trachoma since 1998, assisting ministries of health in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Sudan, and South Sudan.  Through efforts to fight trachoma, Guinea worm disease, river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, and malaria, Carter Center health programs have pioneered the eradication, elimination, and control of so-called “neglected tropical diseases” for more than a quarter-century.  Emphasizing building trust at the grassroots, The Carter Center has helped advance peace and health in more than 70 countries since it was founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn in 1982.

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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