Trachoma: Defeating a Blinding Curse

The third film in the Global Health Frontiers series, TRACHOMA takes viewers to the front lines of an epic battle in Ethiopia against a blinding disease that has for millennia caused untold suffering for countless victims worldwide.

Filmed during seven years of continuing progress, this is an inspiring story – following American advisors from The Carter Center as they work in partnership with local leaders, using medicine, surgery, dedication and widespread community support to achieve real victories against the disease.

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Trachoma is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, which spreads by contact with an infected person's hands or clothing, or by flies carrying the bacteria. It is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness, and is one of the oldest diseases known to man. 

People infected with trachoma do not instantly go blind. The disease manifests gradually, with repeated infections over childhood leading to scar formation of the conjunctiva of the upper eyelid. This causes the eyelashes to turn inward and scratch the cornea. This may lead slowly and painfully to complete blindness.

The disease was once endemic in Europe and the United States. European immigrants to America had their eyelids flipped and examined upon arrival at Ellis Island in New York, and nine of 10 immigrants diagnosed with active trachoma were returned to their home countries. Former President Jimmy Carter remembers when the disease was prevalent in rural Georgia when he was a child. Trachoma disappeared in most industrialized nations, even before antibiotics, because of improved living standards. Today, however, hundreds of millions are still threatened by the disease in 51 countries, often affecting the poorest of the poor, especially in parts of Africa where people have limited access to water and sanitation. Millions suffer from the final stages of the disease and require surgery to prevent them from going blind.

Ethiopians are among the worst-affected, particularly in the remote and mountainous areas of Amhara. With vivid photography and engaging personalities like The Carter Center's Kelly Callahan, Zerihun Tadesse and Paul Emerson in leading roles, TRACHOMA chronicles how Ethiopian health authorities mobilize thousands of volunteers and build a community-based delivery network for a pioneering standard of health care for millions of people in isolated rural villages.

With heartening results, we see how lives are being changed through simple but vigorous strategies: providing free doses of antibiotic tablets twice a year, sight-saving eye surgery for those who need it, building latrines, and teaching children the essentials of washing hands and faces. The campaign against trachoma has improved standards of hygiene across vast areas of Amhara, reducing infections and offering a clear-eyed future for a new generation of Ethiopians.

TRACHOMA is an entertaining and informative journey through a global health success story – an uplifting testimony to the rewards of community-based health care that is obviously succeeding in Ethiopia, offering a model for others in the developing world.