ATLANTA ... Efforts to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem in the West African nations of Mali and Niger will receive US$11.725 million in additional support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, to be implemented by The Carter Center, Helen Keller International, and Sightsavers, the organizations announced Wednesday.
“The Hilton Foundation has supported efforts toward the global elimination of trachoma for more than 20 years and we are thrilled to be reaching the elimination of this disease as a public health problem in countries like Mali and Niger by 2020,” said Peter Laugharn, president and CEO of the Hilton Foundation. “I have seen firsthand the devastating effects that neglected tropical diseases have, and no one should have to suffer from a disease that is preventable. I believe that through collective compassion, collaboration and smart solutions, we can achieve this goal by 2020.”
In a new pledge of $11.725 million, the Hilton Foundation granted $5.975 million to Helen Keller International, $5.1 million to The Carter Center, and $650,000 to Sightsavers. The organizations work in partnership with the federal health ministries; Helen Keller International and The Carter Center work in both Mali and Niger, while Sightsavers works solely in Mali. Because it requires each organization to match its gift dollar for dollar by 2020, the grant will leverage a total $23.45 million of new funds toward eliminating blinding trachoma in the two West African countries.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, founder of The Carter Center, praised the teamwork that has gone into the international effort.
“Mali and Niger’s strong commitment and hard work have brought them within reach of eliminating blinding trachoma,” Carter said. “Their progress gives other countries encouragement and incentive to pursue a similar goal. We partners want to help them cross the finish line, and this new funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation makes it possible.”
Trachoma, caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. It is one of a group of what are known as neglected tropical diseases; evidence of this infection can be traced to as early as 8,000 B.C. It affects millions of people in impoverished communities that lack access to clean water and sanitation. Trachoma is spread from person to person through direct contact and by flies that carry the infection from one person's eyes to another's.
Women and children are disproportionately affected by trachoma. It often begins in early childhood. Multiple infections can cause inflammation and scarring of the inner eyelid, which leads to trichiasis, the painful, blinding stage of trachoma in which the eyelashes turn inward and scratch the surface of the eyeball.
Trachoma can be found in over 50 countries, most in Africa and the Middle East, and a few countries in the Americas and Asia. Globally, 200 million people are at risk for trachoma, and over 3.2 million are at immediate risk for blindness from trichiasis. Although trachoma is easily preventable, more than 2 million of the world’s poorest people are blind today because they did not have access to eyelid surgery or prevention strategies. The disease is responsible for an estimated annual productivity loss of up to US$8 billion.
In 1996, the World Health Organization adopted the SAFE strategy (which stands for Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and hygiene education, and Environmental improvement) to treat and prevent trachoma. In 1997, the agency launched the WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET2020), a global partnership of member states, NGOs (including The Carter Center, Helen Keller International, and Sightsavers), philanthropic organizations (including the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation), and the private sector to mobilize resources and foster coordination of efforts to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem.
About The Carter Center
The Atlanta-based Carter Center (www.cartercenter.org), a not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, is a pioneer in disease eradication and elimination. For more than three decades, the Center has led efforts to end suffering related to neglected tropical diseases, including Guinea worm, river blindness, and trachoma. As part of that work, The Carter Center has delivered more than 500 million doses of medication.
The Carter Center’s Trachoma Control Program has worked with the Mali and Niger National Trachoma Programs to implement the full SAFE strategy since 1999. To date in Mali and Niger, The Carter Center has facilitated a total of 93,764 surgeries, distributed more than 4 million doses of antibiotics through surgical activities and mass drug administration, provided more than 4,000 villages with health education, supported the construction of 219,189 latrines, and trained and equipped 10,024 masons in Mali and Niger.
“Blinding trachoma is a terrible condition affecting millions of people, but we know what to do about it, and we have made great progress,” said Ambassador (ret.) Mary Ann Peters, CEO of The Carter Center. “We are grateful to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and other partners that have provided the means to accomplish these meaningful public health goals.”
About Helen Keller International
Founded in 1915, Helen Keller International (www.hki.org) is dedicated to saving and improving the sight and lives of the world's vulnerable by combating the causes and consequences of blindness, poor health and malnutrition. The U.S.-based organization has more than 120 programs in 20 African and Asian countries and began its work addressing trachoma in the 1950s.
Helen Keller International has supported the National Trachoma Programs in Mali and Niger to implement the SAFE strategy toward achievement of trachoma elimination since 1999. To date, Helen Keller International has provided more than 49,000 sight-saving trichiasis surgeries in Mali and Niger, and in line with the SAFE strategy, health education to beneficiaries in communities and schools to reduce the risk of trachoma infection. The organization also provides mass drug administration (MDA) to interrupt trachoma transmission through its integrated MDA programs, administering over 80.5 million integrated NTD treatments in six African countries in 2016 alone.
“We are close to achieving a historic victory against an ancient malady and the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide,” said Kathy Spahn, president and CEO of Helen Keller International. “Working with the national programs of the governments of Mali and Niger and with the incredible support and leadership of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, together we can end trachoma in these countries and put behind us the suffering it has caused for so many.”
About the Hilton Foundation
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation was created in 1944 by international business pioneer Conrad N. Hilton, who founded Hilton Hotels and left his fortune to help the world’s disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The Foundation currently conducts strategic initiatives in six priority areas: providing safe water, ending chronic homelessness, preventing substance use, helping children affected by HIV and AIDS, supporting transition-age youth in foster care, and extending Conrad Hilton’s support for the work of Catholic Sisters. In addition, following selection by an independent international jury, the Foundation annually awards the $2 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize to a nonprofit organization doing extraordinary work to reduce human suffering. In 2016, the Humanitarian Prize was awarded to The Task Force for Global Health, an international, nonprofit organization that works to improve health of people most in need, primarily in developing countries. From its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than $1.5 billion in grants, distributing $109 million in the U.S. and around the world in 2016. The Foundation’s current assets are approximately $2.6 billion. For more information, please visit www.hiltonfoundation.org.
Sightsavers Inc. (www.sightsaversusa.org) is a registered 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization (EIN 47-4657747) that works in more than 30 developing countries to prevent blindness, restore sight and advocate for social inclusion and equal rights for people with disabilities. There are 39 million blind people in the world; 80% of all blindness can be prevented or cured.
In the six decades since its founding, Sightsavers has: supported over 576.79 million treatments for blinding and potentially blinding conditions; carried out over 8.14 million operations to restore sight; trained more than 500,000 primary eye-care workers; carried out rehabilitation training for 181,000 blind or low vision-beneficiaries; and supported 38,000 blind or low-vision children to gain a school education.
“Sightsavers is excited to be part of this dynamic coalition and play a key role in working toward the elimination of blinding trachoma in Mali,” said Dr. Caroline Harper, Sightsavers CEO. “We applaud the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for extending its commitment to eliminating blinding trachoma. Donations like this are vital if we are to meet the WHO target for elimination by 2020.”