Pfizer and Clark Foundation Announce Major Campaign to Battle Blinding Trachoma

Comprehensive public health strategy will address world’s leading cause of preventable blindness

Released simultaneously from New York, Washington and London

New York, NY — November 10, 1998 — Pfizer Inc and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation today announced a $66 million public health program that will work toward eliminating blinding trachoma in five developing countries. A key component of the program is Pfizer’s donation of Zithromax®, its long-acting oral antibiotic, which the World Health Organization (WHO) recently recommended for the treatment of trachoma.

Pfizer and Clark have formed a new organization, the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), to support for the first time on a broad scale the WHO-endorsed SAFE strategy. SAFE is a comprehensive public health approach that includes surgery, antibiotics, face-washing and environmental change to combat trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. Initially the ITI will focus on five developing countries where the disease is endemic. The leading candidates for the program are Morocco, Mali, Ghana, Tanzania and Vietnam.

“We want to help the people who suffer from this disease — people who live in very poor areas of the world who otherwise would never have access to advanced health care,” says William C. Steere, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Pfizer Inc.

Since the 1950’s, standard therapy has been tetracycline ointment applied directly to the eyes twice daily, usually for six weeks. With Zithromax®, however, a single annual oral dose treats active infection and is administered under trained supervision, resulting in much higher compliance rates.

For the past two years, Pfizer and Clark supported field-testing of the SAFE strategy, including Zithromax®, in Morocco. Over 10,000 patients and family members were treated and millions were reached as part of a country-wide public health campaign, demonstrating the feasibility of a comprehensive community treatment effort.

“The Pfizer and Clark-supported efforts in Morocco are a great asset in our national trachoma program,” said Dr. Abdelwahed el Fassi, Morocco’s Minister of Public Health. “The donation of Zithromax® along with implementation of the full SAFE strategy is helping us to significantly reduce the number of new trachoma cases in Morocco and save the sight of many of our citizens.”

In addition to providing several million doses of Pfizer’s Zithromax®, the ITI will work with national governments, United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations to provide grants and technical assistance to in-country trachoma programs.

Transmission and blindness from Trachoma

Trachoma is a bacterial infection of the upper eyelid. The WHO estimates that the disease infects more than 150 million people worldwide; six million people have been blinded or are at immediate risk of becoming blind by trachoma. An additional 540 million — nearly ten percent of the world’s population — are at risk of developing the disease. The disease is most common in areas where poverty, poor hygiene and poor access to water are pervasive, and is endemic in parts of Africa, Asia, Australia and Central and South America. Trachoma has been virtually eliminated in North America and Europe.

Bacteria are easily transmitted from person to person, particularly within families with small children. The bacteria cause a sticky discharge from the eyes and a runny nose. Children often transmit this discharge to others through frequent contact. Flies are attracted to the sticky discharge and runny noses and may pass the bacteria from person to person.

Blindness occurs only after multiple infections, usually when individuals are in their 30s or 40s. Women are 2-3 times more likely than men to be blinded by trachoma, perhaps because of their close contact with children.

Without adequate treatment, the inner eyelid becomes scarred. After repeated infection and scarring, the eyelid will turn inward, causing the eyelashes to rub against and damage the cornea, which leads to blindness. Because the disease causes blindness in the most productive years of a person’s life, trachoma can ruin the economic well being of entire families and communities.

“Public health workers and ophthalmologists have studied this disease over the last 12 years, and we understand the importance of traditional methods of trachoma control — good hygiene, available water and health education,” says Joseph Cook, M.D. of the Clark Foundation. “Trachoma was eliminated in the West in the early part of the 20th Century through these traditional methods alone. Now, those hygienic and environmental changes, combined with the use of Zithromax® and minor surgery in advanced cases of the disease, can eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem in the rest of the world.”

SAFE Strategy

The ITI’s global trachoma elimination strategy is based on the field experience of the Clark Foundation-supported projects, the WHO and others. The treatment protocol is known as SAFE:

S Surgery to correct advanced-stage disease (a 15-minute procedure that can be done in a village setting)

A Antibiotics to treat active disease

F Face washing (three handfuls of water per person can drastically reduce disease transmission)

E Environmental changes (such as better access to clean water and sanitation and health education)

Pfizer and The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation — A Unique Partnership Committed to International Public Health

Pfizer has a long history of corporate citizenship, with many domestic and international philanthropic programs focusing on access to health care, education and community development. The company was an early pioneer in antibiotic production and continues intensive research in anti-infectives. Both now and in the past, Pfizer has been committed to bringing medicines to those in need. The Zithromax® donation to prevent blindness due to trachoma is Pfizer’s largest and most significant international philanthropic venture.

Over the past 20 years, The Clark Foundation’s Program for Tropical Disease Research has sought to improve health in developing nations by concentrating on diseases that affect millions of people but that modern medical science has largely neglected. These include the two major infectious causes of blindness: onchocerciasis, better known as “river blindness,” and trachoma, which is ten times more prevalent than river blindness. Through its sponsorship of the ITI, Clark will contribute funds as well as operational research, technical expertise, and the ability to mobilize important parties in support of trachoma control.

The ITI’s approach to combating trachoma through a comprehensive public health strategy has attracted support from other organizations, including the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the William H. Gates Foundation.

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