Pfizer extends drug donation to fight eye disease

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Pfizer extends drug donation to fight eye disease

Pfizer said on Thursday it would extend a drug donation programme aimed at eradicating trachoma, an eye disease that is responsible for blinding or visually impairing nearly two million people worldwide.

The US pharmaceutical company founded the International Trachoma Initiative ITI in 1998, and has donated nearly a billion doses of the antibiotic Azithromycin, which has contributed to a 90 percent reduction in the number of people impacted.

Caroline Roan, the chief sustainability officer and senior vice president of Pfizer, told AFP that we are close to getting where we need to be with the elimination of this disease.

The announcement was made at the Summit on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases in Kigali, Rwanda.

Trachoma is caused by the infection with the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis and is spread through personal contact such as hands, clothes or bedding and by flies that have been in contact with discharge from the eyes or nose of an infected person, according to the World Health Organization.

Africa is the most affected continent, and women are blinded up to four times more often than men, likely due to greater contact with infants. Repeated infections draw the eyelashes inward, where they rub against the eye, causing pain and permanent damage to the cornea, says the WHO.

Some 136 million people are at risk of being raised in trachoma-endemic areas.

The ITI had originally hoped to eliminate the disease by 2020, but now it is setting its sights on 2030. Despite the progress already made, trachoma no longer represents a public health problem in 13 countries including China, Morocco, Ghana and elsewhere. Individual districts are assessed and if more than 5 percent of children are infected, then the antibiotic is given to the entire local population once a year for treatment and prevention.

Some of the campaigns will treat 10 million people in a week, and that really knocks down that infectious reservoir, ITI director Paul Emerson told AFP.

The challenge today is to reach isolated populations, including nomadic people, as well as to promote hygiene measures such as frequent washing of the face in areas where water may be scarce.

Emerson said conflict is a big factor. In a perfect world, where there was no interruption in available funds, and there was no war, we probably could have eliminated trachoma by 2020. Roan said that the new 2030 goal is realistic and ambitious.