Trachoma is a potentially blinding eye infection, which accounts for about three per cent of all cases of blindness worldwide. It’s the world's leading cause of preventable blindness, and tends to affect the poorest communities in low- and middle-income countries.
An estimated 232 million people live in areas where trachoma is endemic. The disease is responsible for the visual impairment of about 2.2 million people, 1.2 million of whom are irreversibly blind.* Trachoma is highly contagious and easily spread by flies, clothing and touch. It mainly affects women (as they’re often primary caregivers) and children.
Repeated trachoma infections cause scarring to the eyelids, which can make eyelashes turn inward and scrape against the surface of the eye with every blink. This damages the cornea and can lead to irreversible blindness. It’s very painful, and people often pluck out their eyelashes to try and stop the discomfort, but the pain returns as the lashes grow back.
Trachoma can be treated with antibiotics costing 35p. Eyelid surgery for trichiasis (advanced trachoma) costs £8 and takes around 15 minutes.