Trachoma elimination: millions more to benefit from donated azithromycin

The World Health Organization (WHO) today welcomed the announcement by Pfizer Inc. that it will extend its donation of the antibiotic Zithromax® (azithromycin) for trachoma elimination until 2030, building on the company’s 23-year commitment to fight the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness.

Caused by repeated bacterial infection of the eyes, trachoma blinds the poorest people in the world. WHO recommends a four-part strategy to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem. This strategy takes the acronym “SAFE”, representing: surgery for advanced disease, antibiotics to clear infection, and facial cleanliness and environmental improvement (particularly increased access to water and sanitation) to reduce transmission. Pfizer’s Zithromax® donation is a critical part of SAFE, and is managed by the International Trachoma Initiative at the Task Force for Global Health, Decatur (GA), USA, an organization in official relations with WHO.

“Continuing the donation programme will bring relief to millions of people around the world who are affected by this preventable neglected tropical disease,” said Dr Ren Minghui, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage/Communicable and Noncommunicable Diseases. “WHO is very grateful for Pfizer’s ongoing commitment to helping prevent trachomatous blindness.”

Caroline Roan, Senior Vice-President Global Health & Patient Impact, Pfizer Inc., commented, “Trachoma is a debilitating disease that should no longer wreak havoc on people’s lives and livelihoods. We are proud to support our longstanding trachoma partners working tirelessly towards elimination and improving lives worldwide.”

Between 2002 and 2021, due to a combination of SAFE strategy implementation, improved living conditions and better data, the estimated number of people living in trachoma-endemic areas worldwide fell 91% from 1517 million to 136 million. But over the past 2 years, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has limited the activity of programmes against neglected tropical diseases in many countries. Community-based work, such as antibiotic mass drug administration for trachoma, has been particularly adversely affected.

In the road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021–2030, endorsed by the World Health Assembly in November 2020, trachoma is targeted for global elimination as a public health problem by 2030. To date, 13 countries (Cambodia, China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Gambia, Ghana, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Togo) have been validated as having achieved this milestone.