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.

Trachoma Image/Video Screen Shot
Image/Video Screen Shot

Today, delegations from the U.K. and U.S. governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Pfizer are gathering in the Wolisso 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.

“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.”

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.

“The expansion of the SAFE strategy across Ethiopia is vital in alleviating the sufferings of millions of our people and ultimately eradicating trachoma from our soil,” said His Excellency Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu, Minister of Health of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. “The burden of trachoma is too high, but with the implementation of SAFE strategies, including Pfizer’s donation of Zithromax, and efficient partnership with international partners, we are determined to achieve this goal.”

Trachoma is an infectious disease, which can develop into a condition in which eyelids turn inwards 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) Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET 2020). The Alliance is a unique collaboration of more than 100 governments, 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.

“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.”

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 the outcome of the validation process.*

“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.”