Trachoma is one of the oldest diseases known to humankind and one of the most preventable. The disease used to exist throughout Europe and the United States, even into the 20th century. Improvements in living conditions in many parts of the world have wiped out trachoma, but 182 million people in 42 countries are still at risk. It is hyperendemic in many of the poorest and most rural areas of Africa, Central and South America, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.

eye infected with trachoma
Eye infected with Trachoma. The inside of the eyelid is scarred and turned inward.




Trachoma is caused by the bacterium chlamydia trachomatis. Trachoma mainly exists in communities where extreme poverty has made it more difficult to improve environmental sanitation or to provide basic health education such as promoting hand and face washing. Risk factors influencing the transmission of the disease include: poor hygiene, crowded households, water shortage, inadequate latrines and sanitation facilities.

Trachoma often begins as a childhood illness, spreading easily from child to child, and from child to caregiver. Infection spreads through personal contact with eye and nose discharge of infected people, (via hands, clothes or bedding) and by flies that have been in contact with discharge from the eyes or nose of an infected person. Women are blinded up to 4 times as often as men, probably due to their close contact with infected children and their resulting greater frequency of infection episodes.

After repeated trachoma infections, the inside of a person’s eyelid can become scarred and turn inward, causing the eyelashes to scrape against a person’s eye with each blink. This condition is called trichiasis, and without immediate, corrective surgery, a person with trichiasis will slowly and painfully become blind.


Trachoma and the blindness it causes, can be prevented and treated through a series of simple interventions. The World Health Organization (WHO) endorses SAFE Strategy:

·        Surgery to treat the blinding stage of the disease (Trachomatous Trichiasis);

·        Antibiotics to clear infection, particularly mass drug administration of the antibiotic azithromycin, which is donated by the manufacturer to elimination programmes, through the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI)

·        Facial cleanliness and;

·        Environmental improvement, particularly improving access to water and sanitation.

Each of the interventions must be implemented over the long term to prevent permanent blindness and disability from Trachoma. Blindness from trachoma is irreversible.

WHO categorizes trachoma as a 'neglected tropical disease,' or NTD. NTDs thrive in the southern hemisphere among communities living in extreme poverty. Africa is the most trachoma-endemic continent. WHO seeks to end blindness from trachoma by 2020.


International Trachoma Initiative (ITI)​​​​