In a remote village high up in the Northern Pakistan mountains that has seen its share of strife and hardship, men, women, and children gathered last month to take a drug that could save their sight.
The village was the beneficiary of Pakistan’s first mass drug treatment campaign to wipe out trachoma, joining the global fight to end the blinding disease by 2020. Over the course of the campaign, more than a million people in two districts are expected to benefit from receiving the antibiotic, Zithromax®, that treats and prevents trachoma.
For The Task Force’s International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), the mass drug administration (MDA) was the culmination of a partnership built with Pakistan over several years.
ITI Director Paul Emerson, PhD, said Pakistan has had a small trachoma elimination program since 1999, but this was the country’s first MDA. He said surveys showed that trachoma was not as deeply entrenched or widespread as originally feared.
ITI worked with local health officials and other partners to ensure that sufficient doses of Zithromax were on the ground for the MDA and that Pakistan could distribute the drug to the two districts, which are located at opposite ends of the country.
One of the districts in Northern Pakistan borders Afghanistan and is vulnerable to harsh weather conditions. Pakistan and ITI had to ensure the drugs reached the district before winter when access would be difficult.
MDA is a critical component of a comprehensive, multi-pronged strategy to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem. A bacterial infection, trachoma is easily transmitted among people, through contact with contaminated items, or flies that have come in contact with the eyes or noses of infected people. It is for this reason that everyone in a community must be treated at the same time to eliminate the disease.
Nearly 200 million people globally are affected by trachoma. ITI manages Pfizer’s donation of Zithromax®, and is currently supporting treatment in more than 35 countries.
The Task Force will continue to support the Pakistani Ministry of Health in its trachoma elimination efforts. Other partners for this initiative include The Fred Hollows Foundation and the National Committee for Eye Health Pakistan.