Stories from the Field

Uganda’s Effort to Prevent Blindness: First Trachoma Mass Drug Administration

05/01/2014
MDA at a local school in Uganda

MDA at a local school in Uganda Source: Scott Torres, RTI

Trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness, affects more than 41 million people worldwide. It is found primarily in rural areas that have poor living conditions and limited access to clean water and health care. Children are most susceptible to the infection, although its effects may not be discovered until adulthood. Repeated infections cause scarring of the eyelid, eventually forcing the eyelashes to turn inward and scratch the cornea. This leads to a slow, painful descent into complete blindness. With funding from USAID and drugs donated by the Pfizer pharmaceutical company, Uganda’s Ministry of Health (MOH) is working to prevent the country’s children from experiencing this debilitating disease.

In September 2006, USAID launched its integrated Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Control Program, the first global effort to support country programs to integrate and scale up delivery of preventive chemotherapy for five targeted NTDs: lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, trachoma, onchocerciasis, and soil-transmitted helminthiasis. Leveraging generous donations of the proven effective treatments for NTDs – ivermectin (Mectizan), azithromycin (Zithromax), albendazole, and mebendazole – from the Merck, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson companies, the NTD Control Program is providing critical funding to allow countries receiving these drugs to scale up treatment. The NTD Control Program supports treatment scale-up by working with disease-specific national control programs to integrate mass drug campaigns for co-endemic NTDs.

The MOH’s trachoma program has been in existence for years, but because of a lack of funds, it wasn't until this past year that the Ministry was able to administer its first mass drug administration (MDA) campaign against trachoma.  In 2006, with support from Lions Aid Norway and Sight Savers International, Uganda successfully surveyed seven endemic NTD districts and developed a trachoma program that qualified the country to receive support from the larger NTD community. Uganda was among the first five countries selected to participate in USAID’s NTD Control Program. As part of the new integrated program, the trachoma program has been given a platform to distribute drugs to endemic districts.

During the first round of treatment, the Program successfully delivered Zithromax to the seven surveyed districts. “For the first time, the Ministry of Health and its partners have come up with a strategy to control trachoma, which is one of our main problems,” said a health officer in Kotido district. As part of the ongoing commitment to eliminate trachoma, the MOH and the NTD Control Program, with the support of donated drugs and USAID funding, will continue to fund Zithromax distribution and trachoma surveys. This year, the Program plans to expand treatment to 11 districts, targeting a population of nearly 4 million people.