UK announces £20 million Commonwealth Fund to support trachoma elimination

16 Apr 2018

The United Kingdom has established a £20 million Commonwealth Fund to continue its commitment to trachoma elimination from 2018 - 2020, Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt announced today - the first day of the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London.

Trachoma is the world's leading infectious cause of blindness and a major cause of disability, exclusion and poverty. If left untreated, trachoma can cause eyelids to turn inward, or eyelashes to grow towards the eye scratching the cornea, causing immense pain and leading to irreversible blindness.

The Commonwealth Fund will support ten Commonwealth countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific implementing the World Health Organization-endorsed SAFE Strategy (surgery, antibiotics, face-washing, environmental improvements), which is used to treat trachoma and reduce transmission. These countries include Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Pakistan, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Scale up of the SAFE Strategy has resulted in the number of people at risk of trachoma reducing from 325 million in 2011 to 182 million in 2016. However, the disease remains endemic in 21 Commonwealth countries, affecting 52 million people.

Key objectives of this new investment are to:

  • Treat more than 5.5 million people with antibiotics for trachoma
  • Provide up to 76,000 people with eyelid surgery for trichiasis to relieve pain and prevent further loss of sight - the advanced stages of the disease
  • Train more than 12,000 'Community Drug Distributors' - community members who are trained to distribute antibiotic treatments and collect data
  • Collect crucial data through more than 130 mapping, impact and surveillance surveys, including the mapping of all unmapped districts in Tanzania, Nigeria, Pakistan and Kenya
  • Support the promotion of healthy hygiene behaviours and sanitation practices among populations at risk of trachoma

The Commonwealth Funding announcement continues the UKs leadership to eliminate trachoma and other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and also helps to fulfill its commitment in the 2012 London Declaration on NTDs - to control or eliminate 10 NTDs, including trachoma, by 2020.

The fund will support work that ensures the most remote and marginalised communities are reached with no one left behind

UK leadership to tackle NTDs has allowed record-breaking numbers of donated drugs being delivered to endemic districts. The UK has also helped put Ghana on the verge of elimination and other Commonwealth countries such as Malawi are expected to achieve elimination by 2020. This fund will help Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Nauru work with the World Health Organization to confirm they have eliminated trachoma, while helping Pakistan, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea get nearer elimination.

Other examples of UK leadership in trachoma elimination include its support for the Global Trachoma Mapping Project (GTMP), the world's largest ever infectious disease survey. GTMP used innovative smart phone technology to collect data from 2.6 million people in 29 countries, accurately identifying where trachoma interventions needed to be implemented. This step changing project, led by Sightsavers, involved collaboration and partnership between more than 53 organisations, including 30 ministries of health, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the International Trachoma Initiative, the World Health Organization and more than 20 not-for-profit eye health organisations, with funding from UK aid and the United States Agency for International Development.

UK aid has also supported the implementation of the SAFE Strategy through the Department for International Development funded DFID SAFE Program. To date, the DFID SAFE Program has managed over 100,000 trichiasis (the late blinding stage of trachoma) surgeries and distributed over 40 million antibiotic treatments, protecting almost 18 million people since 2012. It has also supported behaviour change activities in 145 trachoma-endemic health districts, ensuring the communities are equipped to take ownership over their own health behaviour and sustain progress made. 

Quotes:

"ICTC warmly welcomes the announcement of continued support towards trachoma elimination through The Commonwealth Fund. UK leadership has supported the collaboration of a wide range of public, private, philanthropic and civil society stakeholders committed to eliminating this debilitating disease. The fund will support work that ensures the most remote and marginalised communities are reached with no one left behind - helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Eliminating trachoma will have an enormous and immediate benefit for the communities it affects by reducing poverty, marginalisation and suffering."

- Serge Resnikoff, Chair, International Coalition of Trachoma Control.

"Blinding trachoma is a horribly painful disease that has devastating effects on the people it affects and their communities. This new investment, from the Commonwealth 2018-2020 Fund, will help us make huge strides towards eliminating this ancient scourge from the Commonwealth and will also encourage other donors to step forward’. 

- Dr Caroline Harper CBE, CEO of the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind – more commonly known as Sightsavers

 “This funding from the UK government is desperately needed to fight trachoma, an often forgotten but ruthless disease. We have been working with Sightsavers and our partners in the International Coalition for Trachoma Control for many years to eliminate trachoma, and thanks to this UK government funding we can make the final push to end the needless suffering of millions of people in some of the world’s poorest nations.”

- Dr Ian Wishart, CEO, The Fred Hollows Foundation