During a ceremony held at the Carter Center’s headquarters on May 15, 2014, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Lions Clubs International Foundation Chairperson Wayne Madden announced a US $8.8 million expansion of the Lions-Carter Center SightFirst Initiative to end suffering from major causes of preventable blindness in Ethiopia, Uganda, Mali, and Niger.

“For 20 years, the partnership with Lions Clubs International Foundation has been instrumental in supporting the Carter Center’s leadership in the fight against neglected diseases,” said President Carter. “The Lions’ continued financial support will help The Carter Center, local Lions clubs, and other national partners defeat preventable blindness in some of the most affected communities in the world.”

Trachoma Image/Video Screen Shot
Image/Video Screen Shot

The Carter Center and Lions Clubs International Foundation partnership, called the Lions-Carter Center SightFirst Initiative, was established in 1999. The funding announcement comes at a critical juncture as Carter Center-supported efforts against trachoma and river blindness are reaching major milestones and scaling up to achieve new goals.

Mali and Niger are making progress in eliminating blinding trachoma by 2015. Significant efforts to eliminate trachoma from the Amhara Region of Ethiopia, the most highly endemic region of the world, are generating promising results. In addition, the Center has changed its approach to river blindness in Africa—no longer simply working to control the disease, but seeking to assist ministries of health to eliminate the disease from the areas where the Center works.

“Lions have a long history of preserving sight, so it’s an honor to work with The Carter Center and our fellow Lion, President Carter, to help eliminate river blindness and blinding trachoma in African nations where we’re needed most,” said Lions Clubs International Foundation Chairperson Wayne Madden. “Together, we are working toward a future free from the unnecessary suffering caused by river blindness and trachoma.”

Local Lions clubs will help mobilize impacted communities to participate in mass drug administration, eyelid surgery campaigns, health education, and latrine construction. Lions also will serve as community advocates by working with local leaders to increase participation in activities related to river blindness and trachoma in their communities. Since 1994, Lions Clubs International Foundation has awarded US $42 million in grants to The Carter Center.

Trachoma is an infectious eye disease that is a leading cause of blindness and suffering in the poorest regions of the world. After years of untreated trachoma infections, the eyelids turn inward, and the lashes scrape the cornea, damaging vision with every excruciating blink. Women and children suffer most from trachoma, because children are the main carriers of the disease and regularly spread it to their mothers, perpetuating a cycle of infection. Estimates suggest there are so many cases of advanced trachoma that it blinds one person every 15 minutes.

The Center has been working to end blindness caused by trachoma by 2019 in Ethiopia and by 2015 in Mali, Niger, Sudan, and South Sudan. Mali, Niger, and Sudan are closest to their targets. The Lions funding will continue to support the Carter Center’s efforts in Mali and Niger, as well as in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia, the most trachoma-affected area known in the world.

Since 1999, the Lions-Carter Center SightFirst Initiative has assisted: the distribution of more than 134 million doses of the drug Zithromax® (an antibiotic donated by Pfizer Inc that treats active trachoma infections); supported 334,000 surgeries to correct trichiasis, the advanced, blinding stage of trachoma; helped to construct more than 2.9 million latrines to improve environmental sanitation; and conducted health education in thousands of communities.

Spread by the bites of black flies that breed in rapidly flowing streams, river blindness (onchocerciasis) is a dreadful eye and skin disease. The majority of river blindness occurs in Africa, where more than 120 million people are at risk and hundreds of thousands have been blinded by the condition. Alleviation of suffering from onchocerciasis and interruption of transmission of the worm that causes the disease can be achieved through community-delivered mass treatments using the safe and effective oral drug Mectizan®, donated by Merck.

In 2013, the Center officially added the word elimination to its program name to reflect the new focus of its intervention efforts to break the transmission cycle of the disease once and for all. The Center’s new river blindness strategy requires intensification of intervention efforts (such as providing Mectizan treatments twice per year instead of annually) and much improved monitoring of impact with state-of-the-art laboratory-based approaches.

LCIF has been an important partner of The Carter Center for the Center’s river blindness elimination efforts, providing more than $22 million to support programs in Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the six endemic countries of the Americas. The Lions-Carter Center SightFirst Initiative has supported the distribution of more than 136 million Mectizan® treatments. Key Lions support has allowed The Carter Center to demonstrate river blindness elimination is possible in the Americas, Sudan, Uganda, and now Ethiopia.

The LCIF grant will support the Carter Center’s scaled up campaign to eliminate river blindness from parts of Ethiopia and from the Mid North focus of northern Uganda, one of the last endemic areas of the country. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page.