Feature Stories: Trachoma, Ethiopia
Trachoma is caused by the micro-organism Chlamydia trachomatis, which is easily spread by hands, clothing or flies. Infected eyelids invert and eye lashes scratch the cornea.
Trachoma’s blinding damage builds over decades of repeated infections that begin in babies. The infections are spread from person to person, or by hungry flies that feed from seeping eyes.
For many women, the pain and eventual blindness ensure a life of deepening destitution and dependency. They become a burden on daughters and granddaughters, making trachoma a generational scourge among women and girls who are often already the most vulnerable of the poor.
In large part because women look after the children, and children are the most heavily infected, women are three times more likely to get the blinding, late stage of the disease.
Trachoma disappeared from the United States and Europe as living standards improved, but remains endemic in much of Africa and parts of Latin America and Asia, its last, stubborn redoubts.
The World Health Organization estimates that 70 million people are infected with it. Five million suffer from its late stages. And two million are blind because of it. A million people need the eyelid surgery in Ethiopia alone. Yet last year only 60,000 got it, all paid for by nonprofit groups like the Carter Center, Orbis and Christian Blind Mission International.
Controlling trachoma depends on relatively simple advances in hygiene, antibiotics and an inexpensive operation.
Excerpts from Preventable Disease Blinds Poor in Third World by Celia W. Dugger for The New York Times. March 31, 2006