Trachoma is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness. Caused by bacterial infection, trachoma spreads easily through contact with eye discharge from infected people on hands, towels and clothing, and also through direct transmission by flies.
Children are especially susceptible to trachoma, and infection often begins during infancy and can become chronic. Left untreated, the eyelid eventually turns inward, causing the eyelashes to rub the eyeball, resulting in intense pain and scarring of the cornea. This ultimately leads to irreversible blindness, typically between 30 and 40 years of age.
Because of their close daily contact with infants and children, women are three times more likely than men to suffer the late blinding stage of trachoma.
Trachoma was once endemic around the world, but has disappeared in industrialized nations. It still thrives in many of the poorest areas of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and parts of the Middle East, wherever people lack access to clean water and proper sanitation.
Operation Eyesight follows the World Health Organization-endorsed SAFE strategy for eliminating trachoma. SAFE is a comprehensive treatment and prevention program that includes:
Surgery to treat trichiasis (the painful late stage of the disease)
Antibiotics to eliminate infection
Face washing and hygiene education
Environmental change including wells and latrines
Properly implemented, the SAFE strategy permanently eliminates trachoma. Because of the emphasis on clean water and sanitation, it also dramatically improves the general health and prosperity of whole communities.