NEW YORK, November 16, 2015 – The International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), Pfizer Inc. and International Coalition for Trachoma Control (ICTC) partners announce Pfizer’s donation of the 500 millionth dose of Zithromax® (azithromycin) Tablets, an antibiotic used to treat trachoma in certain countries. The milestone marks significant achievement in global efforts to help eliminate this infectious and preventable eye disease that can lead to permanent blindness, as a public health threat by the year 2020.
“This milestone highlights what is possible when partners work together toward a common goal and signifies remarkable achievement in our fight to eliminate trachoma globally,” said Virginia Sarah, chair, International Coalition for Trachoma Control, an alliance of organizations committed to supporting national program efforts in more than 30 countries to eliminate trachoma using the SAFE strategy, an approach that includes antibiotic treatment. “Our collective efforts are helping to reduce the impacts of this ancient, preventable disease on affected individuals, families and communities.”
Trachoma is an infectious disease, which can develop into a condition in which eyelids turn in and eyelashes scrape the eyeball, causing great pain, corneal ulcers and irreversible blindness. There are 232 million people in 58 countries at risk, with more than 80 percent of the global burden of the disease concentrated in 14 countries, mostly in Africa. Trachoma is responsible for the visual impairment of approximately 2.2 million people, 1.2 million of whom are irreversibly blind. It threatens entire socio-economic infrastructures and as a result, is estimated to cause USD $3-6 billion in lost productivity per year across affected countries.
“I am extremely grateful to Pfizer for having donated 500 million doses of Zithromax in the fight against blinding trachoma to date," said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, founder of The Carter Center, a pioneer and partner in disease elimination activities. “The Carter Center is proud to have distributed more than 25 percent of those doses in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, the most trachoma-endemic area of the world, along with our partners Lions Clubs International Foundation and the Federal Ministry of Health. Together, we remain committed to eliminating blinding trachoma and reducing unnecessary suffering.”
Partners celebrating today are working as part of The World Health Organization (WHO)-led Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET 2020). This Alliance is a unique collaboration of more than 100 governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector partners implementing a WHO-recommended strategy called “SAFE” that combines:
- Surgery to treat the blinding stage of the disease,
- Antibiotics to treat infection, particularly administration of Zithromax,
- Facial cleanliness to help reduce transmission, and
- Environmental improvement, particularly improving access to water and sanitation.
This integrated strategy ensures that the positive impacts of antibiotic treatments are sustained through improved hygiene, while surgery ensures that those who cannot be cured are still treated to alleviate their discomfort and improve their quality of life. Since the Alliance was formed in 1998, partners have treated more than one hundred million people in 33 countries. In 2012, Oman became the first country to achieve WHO validation of trachoma elimination. In addition, China, Gambia, Ghana, Iran, Morocco, Myanmar and Vietnam have all reported the achievement of elimination goals to WHO, and are awaiting outcomes of the validation process.*
“At Pfizer we believe that access to quality healthcare and the opportunity to lead healthy lives is an extremely important social goal,” said Ian Read, chief executive officer, Pfizer. “The power and value of collaboration between public and private organizations in achieving that goal cannot be overstated. We are proud to work with our international partners on this mission to help end trachoma by 2020.”
Expansion of Ethiopian Program Begins Today
The burden of trachoma remains highest in Ethiopia, with 75 million people at risk, and the Federal Ministry of Health is working with Alliance partners to significantly expand the number of people in Ethiopia who are treated. Today, delegations from the U.K. and U.S. governments, NGOs and Pfizer are gathering in the Woliso region of Ethiopia to celebrate the donation of the 500 millionth Zithromax dose and a significant expansion of the national trachoma elimination program in the country.
“Trachoma is on track for elimination as a public health problem in many countries thanks to the dedication of national programs, support of a coalition of partners and stakeholders and the collaboration of affected communities” said Dr. Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho, WHO assistant director-general for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases. “Tackling this leading infectious cause of blindness through the SAFE strategy yields additional benefits against other diseases of poverty, and provides an important opportunity to improve the overall health and livelihood of endemic populations.”
“As we celebrate our great progress, it is critical that we remain steadfast in our efforts to eliminate trachoma from the lives of everyone it affects,” said Dr. Paul Emerson, director, International Trachoma Initiative, the ICTC member organization that manages Pfizer’s Zithromax donation. “We have the partners, tools and momentum to beat this debilitating disease, and we are driving toward 2020 with a sense of urgency and determination. Together we can help ensure that all people of all nations will never have to endure the horror caused by trachoma.”
Learn more about Alliance for GET 2020 activities and join the online conversation by using #500MillionDoses.
About The Alliance for GET 2020
The WHO-led Alliance for Global Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020 (GET 2020) is a network of partners who are working across the globe to implement the SAFE strategy in areas most in need. Commitments and funding for these activities are provided by government agencies, including United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID), Pfizer Inc. and members of ICTC. Alliance members celebrating today include The Carter Center, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Helen Keller International, International Trachoma Initiative, Light for the World, Lions Clubs International Foundation, Orbis International, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, RTI International, Sightsavers, and many others.
About the International Coalition for Trachoma Control
The International Coalition for Trachoma Control (ICTC) is a coalition of NGOs, donors, research/academic institutions and private sector organizations supporting efforts to eliminate trachoma by 2020. ICTC was formed in 2004 to support the WHO-led Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020 (GET 2020) and advocate for the implementation of the WHO-endorsed SAFE strategy. For more information, please visit www.TrachomaCoalition.org.
About The International Trachoma Initiative
The International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) was founded in 1998 in response to the WHO call to achieve Global Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020 (GET 2020). ITI’s founding partners, Pfizer Inc. and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, saw the need for an international NGO dedicated solely to the elimination of trachoma. The ITI is currently administered by the Task Force for Global Health, an independent not for profit. To achieve that goal, ITI collaborates with governmental and NGO agencies at the local, national and international levels to implement the WHO-recommended SAFE strategy for trachoma control. For more information, please visit www.Trachoma.org.
Pfizer Inc.: Working together for a healthier world®
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*Not all countries listed receive Zithromax through the International Trachoma Initiative