Through its Accelerate program, Sightsavers treats preventable blindness caused by trachoma, and partners with governments and healthcare organizations to consign this ancient disease to the history books. Trachoma disproportionately affects the world’s poorest communities, with Africa bearing the greatest burden. Sightsavers is supporting eight African countries’ efforts to eliminate trachoma, and speeding up progress in several others, by 2023.
Main photo caption: Khady, 8, from Senegal is measured for height with a dose pole by Sightsavers’ Community Directed Distributors to determine how many tablets she needs as part of a mass drug administration campaign for trachoma. / Javier Acebal, Sightsavers
In the first six months of 2020, the Accelerate program provided potentially sight-saving surgery to almost 9,000 people. Accelerate has managed over 43,500 cases of advanced stage trachoma to date, tracking toward its five-year goal of 117,564.
Sightsavers’ Accelerate program delivered more than 14.4 million treatments for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in the first six months of 2020. The Accelerate program has now provided 27.4 million NTD treatments in eight countries globally.
Accelerate has supported ministries in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe in bringing previously siloed NTD data into national health databases — a crucial step for ensuring that NTDs like trachoma are part of a country’s policy decisions.
In July 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported an overall reduction of 91 percent in trachoma prevalence since 2002 — a decline from over 1.5 billion cases to 136.9 million. The number of people needing surgery to treat the advanced stage of trachoma declined from 7.6 million in 2002 to two million in 2020.
Trachoma Trackers: How Mobile is Helping Trachoma Elimination
In the West African country of Benin, Sightsavers is using digital technology to help eliminate NTDs. Mobile technology, in particular, has become an essential tool in the fight against trachoma, the most advanced stage of which causes the eyelashes to turn inwards and painfully scrape against the eye. This excruciating scraping can lead to irreversible blindness — however, if caught in time, it can be treated with straightforward surgery that takes 20 minutes. Sightsavers has developed a mobile app called the TT Tracker, which enables trachoma surgeons, assistants and supervisors to collect and analyze important data about surgery and performance, and to determine when and where follow-up appointments are needed. This is incredibly useful in remote areas like northern Benin, where people tend to move around, and adequate healthcare is limited.
“I strongly advise trachoma surgeons and health workers to use the TT Tracker. It greatly reduces workload because the surgeon does not have to record details by hand between each patient and an assistant is able to help with recording patient data,” says Dr. Alfa Bio Amadou, a trachoma surgeon in Benin. “It also means that the patients are better examined, and that all stages of the examination and follow-ups are respected.”
“While field activities were suspended, the team adapted by rapidly preparing for the safe resumption of fieldwork. Our efforts produced a much needed risk assessment and mitigation action tool, as well as enhanced standard operating procedures. This meant that we were able to reach one million people in Nigeria with drugs to stem the spread of Trachoma.”