Health topics

Blinding trachoma

Trachoma screening, Viet Nam

Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness in the world. It is caused by an obligate intracellular bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis. The infection is transmitted through contact with eye and nose discharge of infected people, particularly young children who are the principal reservoir of infection. It is also spread by flies that have been in contact with the eyes and noses of infected people.

In 1996, WHO adopted the “SAFE” strategy as an integrated approach to prevent and control blinding trachoma. Guided by the acronym, the strategy outlined the following combination of interventions:

  • surgery to treat the blinding stage of the disease (trachomatous trichiasis);
  • antibiotics to treat infection, particularly mass drug administration of antibiotics, which are donated by the manufacturer to elimination programmes through the International Trachoma Initiative;
  • facial cleanliness, and
  • environmental improvement, particularly improving access to water and sanitation.

In 1997, WHO launched the WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020 (GET 2020) as a partnership to support country implementation of the SAFE strategy. In 1998, the World Health Assembly endorsed a resolution targeting blinding trachoma for elimination as a public health problem by the year 2020.

In the Western Pacific Region, Viet Nam has reported achieving elimination goals, which signifies a major milestone in the campaign for trachoma elimination – progression to the post-intervention surveillance phase. Ten other countries (Australia, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu) are still endemic with blinding trachoma.