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Access to medication is a start, but long term change is needed for the poor (Part 3)

September 15, 2010

[tweetmeme] The Clinton Global Initiative, UN Summit on Millennium Development Goals, and TEDxChange are only one week away. We present this series of five daily blogs on Neglected Tropical Diseases as an example of an area where philanthropists can make a big social impact. This is the third in a series of five posts that look at the impact of neglected tropical diseases and why philanthropists focused on health may be interested. In the previous blog, we saw how cost-effective treatment can be for some neglected tropical diseases. Those types of interventions are available right now. However, investments are also needed to treat the root causes of these diseases in order to produce long term elimination. 

Nyakier, a young girl from Southern Sudan describes what a difference sight-saving surgery can have for the treatment of blinding trachoma.

“Now since my surgery, I have been telling everyone I see suffering with trichiasis that they should go to the clinic and be helped. Now that I can see, I told my family that I want to go to school and become a successful person. I want to be an example to others who are suffering from trachoma, to show them that they can be treated and live a successful life.”1 

NTD Snapshot2

Many nations, such as Morocco3, have had success through public health programs and have seen a drastic decrease of this disease in their population.4 By using the SAFE strategy (see table below), Morocco’s poorest citizens saw a drastic reduction in the amount of blinding trachoma, which has plagued the country for centuries.5 Morocco now boasts less than 5% infection rate in children and less than 0.1% of adults that need corrective surgery.6 Many other countries are attempting to utilize this same approach. 

While prevention of disease is the most cost-effective, long-term way to decrease suffering, the simple surgery associated with trachoma treatment can be life-changing for each person affected. 

For all neglected tropical diseases, control and elimination are achievable by combining treatment for those infected now; prevention to decrease reinfection and new infections; and behavior changes based on educational interventions to help decrease the spread of disease. 

Here’s a breakdown of how each of these aspects must be addressed in order to move toward eradication of trachoma. As you can see, many of these strategies overlap one another. 

Takeaway Message for Philanthropists: 

  • Investment toward strategies that include treatment and prevention can have long-term impacts on reducing diseases.
  • There is change to be made now, like increasing access to sight-saving surgery; but the best way to address the root causes of disease is to support prevention and behavior change initiatives. 

In the next blog we’ll look at needed developments in research regarding neglected tropical diseases and the global impact new drug developments can have. 

Thanks to the authors, Isobel Harvey, former CHIP researcher and master’s candidate at the Thomas Jefferson University School of Nursing, and Carol McLaughlin, CHIP research director, for their contributions to this series.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Thanks to Emily Staub, Associate Director, Office of Public Information, Health Programs at The Carter Center, we have updated our reference to Nyakier’s story, previously and incorrectly attributed to the World Health Organization (WHO). The original source for Nyakier’s story is found on The Carter Center’s website in the Health Program News & Publications section: Trachoma Control Program – Stories From the Field. See below for the updated reference.


 1 The Carter Center (2010). Sudanese Girl Sees Bright Future After Surgery for Trichiasis. Retrieved from http://www.cartercenter.org/news/publications/health/trachoma_publications/profile_nyakier_mabor_gai_sudan.html
2 The Carter Center (2010). Women and Trachoma: Achieving gender equality in the implementation of SAFE. Atlanta, GA.
3 Levine, R. (2007). Case studies in global health: Millions saved. Jones and Bartlett: Sudbury, MA.
4 Kaiser Family Foundation (2009). U.S. Global Health Policy Fact Sheet. Menlo Park, CA.
5 International Trachoma Foundation (2006). Morocco: A Brighter Future in Sight. Retrieved from http://www.trachoma.org
6 International Trachoma Initiative (2010). Bring on the light: The coming defeat of blinding trachoma.

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