The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust pledges £42.8m to combat blinding trachoma in Commonwealth countries in Africa

14 Nov 2013
ICTC Chair Martin Kollmann meeting the Queen

A new, unique consortium of organisations within The International Coalition for Trachoma Control (ICTC) will work together to rapidly increase work on the elimination of blinding trachoma, the most common infectious cause of blindness in the Commonwealth and beyond, thanks to a £42.8 million investment by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust (the Trust). 

The Trust was established following the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia in 2011, to mark and celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s 60-year contribution to the Commonwealth. With a mission to enrich the lives of people from all backgrounds across the Commonwealth, the Trust has chosen to make the elimination of avoidable blindness a major focus of its work.

The International Coalition for Trachoma Control will implement a large-scale programme of surgery, antibiotic distribution, facial cleanliness and environmental change initiatives, known as the SAFE strategy, in five Commonwealth countries in Africa. This tried and tested strategy has yielded strong results elsewhere in the Commonwealth, for example, Ghana. Between 2013 and 2018 the International Coalition aims to eliminate the disease entirely in Malawi and Kenya and make significant advances towards elimination in Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda.

About 21.4 million people, primarily in Africa, currently have active trachoma. The disease slowly and painfully robs people of their sight, as repeated infection turns eyelashes inwards, scraping the cornea and eventually causes irreversible blindness. Women, traditionally the caretakers of the home, are almost twice as likely as men to develop blinding trachoma. 

Globally trachoma causes an estimated loss of $2.9 billion in productivity each year, and blinding trachoma can have a devastating impact on whole families and communities. By tackling this disease, not only will the programme help save the sight of people across Africa, but it will enable children and young people to stay in education, and allow people to go out to work and support themselves and their families.

Professor KH Martin Kollmann, Chair of the ICTC and CBM Senior Advisor for NTDs commented: “It is extremely exciting to launch this ambitious trachoma programme. Blinding trachoma has a devastating personal and economic impact on people affected and their families. This ICTC consortium is bringing together vast experience and the best available resources to support national programmes to make this ancient disease history”.

Caroline Harper, CEO Sightsavers commented: “This is a major collaborative effort amongst organisations working in trachoma, funded by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. It is set to make a huge impact on the prevalence of this blinding disease, and improve the lives of the millions of people it affects. The programme aims to eliminate blinding trachoma in two countries and make a significant contribution to its elimination in three others. The programme will reach some 12.4 million people via the distribution of drugs and will carry out surgery on close to 200,000 people with the advanced stages of the disease.

The programme will use innovative mobile technology for fast and accurate data capture. It is through using this technology and working together that this programme will be so effective. We know how to bring an end to this agonising disease that robs people of their sight and independence, and this programme will bring us ever closer to that goal.”

Sir John Major, Chairman of the Trust said:

“The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust was established to mark and celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s 60-year contribution to the Commonwealth, and has received generous support from Commonwealth governments, businesses, communities and individual citizens. I am delighted that the Trust will be working with the International Coalition for Trachoma Control and with Sightsavers, who are well known across the Commonwealth for their work on combating avoidable blindness. Through this grant, the Trust seeks to make a real and enduring difference to people who are needlessly blind and aims to make a significant contribution to the goals set by Vision 2020, a global initiative to eliminate the main causes of avoidable blindness worldwide, in the name of Her Majesty The Queen.”

Programme goals:

Over five years, the programme will:

  • Target 217 districts in five Commonwealth countries in Africa;

  • Provide surgery for almost 200,000 people with advanced stages of blinding trachoma,

    known as trichiasis, to correct their in-turned lashes;

  • Provide over 12.4 million people with treatment for the active infection;

  • Improve health messages targeting community hygiene and sanitation practices;

  • Work with others at all levels - global, national and district - to improve access to safe

    water sources and sanitation in the programme areas.