A day with the International Trachoma Initiative

I guess you noticed that I was deeply touched by the visit to the Infectious Diseases Institute  (IDI)yesterday, and to the IDI-friend Rachel’s home. And as touched, and once again proud of the difference Pfizer’s philanthropic programs are doing, am I today after a full day of experiences together with the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI).

The ITI is one of Pfizer’s 6 core global health programs which are designed to increase peoples access to medicine and help building capacity for well-functioning health care around the globe. The cash and product donations for the programs total 2.4 billion US-dollars, of which the ITI was supported with almost 1 billion US-dollars by Pfizer during 2009. The goal of the program is to eliminate trachoma, the leading cause of preventable blindness, by 2020. Pfizer’s main contribution to the program is to provide the needed antibiotic pharmaceutical. Throughout the years of the program Pfizer has donated rougly 225 million treatments… The ITI-organization manages the supply of the medicine, and it was a great pleasure to listen to Elizabeth Kurylo (”Beth”) from ITI when she described the scope of the initiative.

Beth presents ITI

Beth presents ITI

Beth told us that trachoma is endemic in 57 countries. One of those countries is Uganda. There is roughly 1.2 billion people living in countries where trachoma is endemic, and the cost to society, primarily through loss of productivity, is estimated to 2.9 billion US-dollars.

But trachoma can be prevented! And it was such an interesting day to follow Beth and Dr Stanley Bubikire, who runs the trachoma program at the Ugandan Ministry of Health, when they showed the steps that need to be taken.

It can briefly be summarized by the SAFE strategy:

- S is for surgery of people of immidiate risk for blindness

- A is for antibiotics to treat and prevent trachoma

- F is for facial cleanliness and improved hygiene, and

- E is for environmental improvements, especially access to clean water and latrines.

And you who have followed my blog for some time know that Access to Clean Water is something that I have very strong feelings about. To me, lack of access to clean water is one of the biggest threats to public health. And I have to say that the lack of clean water is something that I have been exposed to during these days in Uganda. There is so much we need to do on this issue. If you like to read more about Pfizer’s work on Access to Clean Water I recommend that you read more on the web-site on Pfizer’s Environmental Sustainability Program, where Access to Water is one of three pillars.

During the afternoon we saw the SAFE strategy at work in reality. We went to a school where the anti-biotic pills were distributed to the kids. Once every year the program visits the schools and treat the kids.

Kids lining up for medication

Kids lining up for medication

The pills shall be swallowed down with clean water – definitely a challenge for a school in rural Uganda.

Pills swallowed with clean water

Pills swallowed with clean water

It was such a joy for me and the rest of the visitors to meet all these children. So much happiness, and so much energy – you cannot avoid being touched. The kids showed me their classroom,

The classroom

The classroom

and we surely had a good time!

A lot of happy faces

A lot of happy faces

We then took off from the school to visit the village health centre. Here patients lined up to be investigated for trachoma. We saw several patients suffering from trachoma, and even the most advanced phase of the illness, trichiasis. The eye lid has turned inside out and the eye lashes destroy the lens, resulting in great pain and in blindness.

Checking for trachoma

Checking for trachoma

In these late stages of trachoma, surgery is needed. And once again I was impressed by the whole set-up. After identifying the ones needing surgery, the patients were directly taken into the operations room. We followed the surgery of two older women.

Preparation for surgery

Preparation for surgery

It is a relatively fast operation, and it completely changes the lifes of the patients.

Surgery is on-going

Surgery is on-going

From being under great pain and approaching blindness, the patients are cured. And then with the help of medicines, they will stay SAFE.

I am very happy to have been part of this experience today, and let me finish up with quoting one of the folks at the health centre today:

”Thanks for doing all this, and for helping us fight these illnesses”

Of course, you cannot awoid being touched and feeling proud…

Tomorrow will will see yet another one of the Pfizer Investments in Health programs, namely the Diflucan Partnership Program. But more on that tomorrow.

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