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Successful Tanzanian trachoma treatment offers hope for nomadic communities

Page history last edited by Rosemary 11 years, 9 months ago

The eye infection trachoma — the world's leading preventable cause of blindness — can be successfully eliminated with just two doses of antibiotic, scientists report. Researchers used two doses of the standard antibiotic azithromycin, spaced two years apart, to eliminate trachoma in the community of Kahe Mpya, Tanzania. They reported their results in the New England Journal of Medicine last week (April 24).

The success suggests an alternative to the WHO's current recommendations of annual doses of the antibiotic azithromycin over three years in at-risk communities.

Trachoma is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis infection. Repeated infections can cause scarring on the eyelid, resulting in it turning inside out and causing the eyelashes to scratch the cornea.

People in Kahe Mpya village were administered with azithromycin, and samples from their eyes monitored for the presence of trachoma infection. After the first treatment, infection fell from 9.5 per cent to 0.1 per cent. Three years after the second treatment, no infection was found in samples.

The Tanzanian research offers a solution to help nomadic communities in East Africa, who have the highest rates of trachoma in the world, says Hezron Ngugi, a trachoma researcher at the Kenya-based African Medical & Research Foundation (AMREF). He says that as few doses of antibiotic as possible — coupled with environmental management, basic hygiene and improved sanitation — are key to combating trachoma, as the infection is passed on via eye discharge from an infected person.

Even the single dose treatment currently applied once a year requires government reliance on free donations from the International Trachoma Institute from pharmaceutical company Pfizer, Ngugi noted.

AMREF is currently researching the use of volunteer community health workers to give out azithromycin and provide advice to nomadic cattle herders in Kenya's isolated Samburu district. Final results will be known next year.

Link to full paper in the New England Journal of Medicine

This story, entitled Trachoma 'eliminated' in Tanzanian village, written by Henry Neondo and Christina Scott, was published 1 May 2008 by SciDev.Net, the Science and Development Network. SciDev.Net is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing reliable and authoritative information about science and technology for the developing world. Its website  gives policymakers, researchers, the media and civil society information and a platform to explore how science and technology can reduce poverty, improve health and raise standards of living around the world.


For more stories related to eyesight and blindness, see:

'Vision entrepreneurs' solve blurry vision while making a living

Benin is an ongoing success story in eliminating endemic river blindness

First adjustable prescription eyeglasses offer hope for developing world

Indian eye care centre crusades against unnecessary blindness in the developing world

One man's vision brings affordable cataract surgery to the developing world

Unite for Sight - volunteer-driven eye care in North America and four continents


For other stories about practical health care solutions in Africa, see:

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Coping with the grief and loss of AIDS: memory projects bring hope to Africa

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Motorbike ambulances save lives of mothers, babies, in remote areas of Africa

Personal Digital Assistants, and open source software, save lives in Africa

Recycled phones and free software revolutionize health care for Malawi hospital

Using mobile phones to monitor child malnutrition in Malawi wins award for UNICEF

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