A MASS treatment programme to halt the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness is under way in Yemen.
The overseas disability charity Christian Blind Mission (CBM) has been using thousands of female volunteers to deliver 444,000 doses of the drug Zithromax, which treats trachoma, said to be one of the world’s neglected tropical diseases.
Trachoma is spread by flies and human touch. It starts as a bacterial infection, but, if left untreated, it can turn eyelashes inwards, damaging the eye and causing irreversible blindness. Up to 2.7 million people in Yemen are thought to be at risk of the disease, and 2000 people are known to have trachomatous trichiasis, the painful advanced stage of the disease which leads to blindness. Globally, 1.9 million people have gone blind as a result of the disease.
Zithromax was donated by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. It is the first mass administration of the drug in Yemen, a country that has experienced years of civil war and is now in the grip of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
The director of neglected tropical diseases at CBM, Dr Babar Qureshi, said that the administration of the drug in Yemen was a “major achievement . . . a testament to the dedication and bravery of the local teams on the ground”.
Female volunteers were used as the best method of getting the drugs into people’s homes: owing to local custom, men are often not admitted. The volunteers travelled door to door through 270 villages in two rural regions, often having to travel along dangerous roads through conflict zones to reach remote communities. They also gave out wash kits, donated by the World Health Organization, that contain soap and advice on how to stop the spread of the disease.
Further distribution of the drug is planned in other areas of the country at high risk, and more funding is being sought to carry out surgery on those worst affected.