Trachoma is a highly contagious and blinding disease which occurs in 57 countries and destroys the lives of around 40 million people. Globally trachoma costs over 2.8 billion dollars in lost income. Unnecessarily, as trachoma is easy to treat and prevent with the right medicines and hygiene rules. Overall, Africa is the most affected continent: 27.8 million cases of active trachoma. Roughly half of the global burden of active trachoma is concentrated in 5 countries Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Uganda and Sudan

Trachoma is one of the many so-called neglected diseases in the tropics which dozens of non-governmental organisations are currently fighting throughout the world. Pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, have donated over 145 million doses for trachoma control, but even with donations the cost is too high for some of the poorest in the world to be treated. Worldwide, every 4 minutes, 1 person experiences severe sight loss and every hour, 4 people become blind. I want to start by telling you the story of Mrs. Alehegn. Mrs. Alehegn was a strong young woman when she started to develop trachoma, or “hair in the eye” as it is known in East Africa.

The pain made it impossible for her to cook over smoky dung fires, hike to distant wells for water or work in dusty fields, the essential duties of a wife. The disease caused her relationship with her husband to deteriorate until he left her for a healthy woman.  “When I stopped getting up in the morning to do the housecleaning, when I stopped helping with the farm work, we started fighting.”For fifteen years Mrs. Alehegn suffered, every blink of the eye would feel like thorns scrapping her eyes. She would pluck the hairs of her inturned eyelids only to have them grow back more coarse, more debilitating.

Yet, with the help of her daughter, she persevered until she could scrounge up enough money from her meager income to get the surgery. For fifteen years she needlessly suffered to overcome a disease that is preventable and treatable.  When Mrs. Alehegn’s ex husband was asked why he left her, he said that he too had begun to develop “hair in the eye.”He too had been forced to stop working, if they had not separated they would have both become completely blind and died. A hard working wife would provide him the income he needs to be able to afford the life saving surgery.” If we had not been sick” he said sadly, “we would have raised our children together.”

The World Health Organization estimates that with the right help, trachoma can be eradicated by 2020.

Our government, our country, Canadians can be part of eradicating this debilitating disease.