Secretary General of The Mauritanian Ministry of Health Delivers First Antibiotic Treatment in a National Effort to End Blinding Trachoma by 2010

The International Trachoma Initiative joins forces with AmeriCares and other partners to advance the global elimination of trachoma.

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For further information, contact: Jonathan Struthers, International Trachoma Initiative,
Mobile: (917) 881-7084, Email:

Cecilia Fabrizio, AmeriCares
Mobile: (203) 536-8044, Email: [/sws_white_box]

Atar, Mauritania, May 20, 2004 — In this arid village on the edge of the Sahara Desert, the Secretary General of the Mauritanian Ministry of Health, Mr. Meimoune Ould Jiyid, delivered the nation’s first Zithromax treatment in an effort to eliminate blinding trachoma, a highly infectious disease that leads to blindness. Zithromax, a well-known antibiotic, has been proven effective in reducing infection in communities suffering from trachoma.

Trachoma is a chronic, contagious infection that over time scars the upper eyelid, causing the eyelashes to turn inward and scratch the cornea, eventually leading to blindness. Through the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), Pfizer Inc donates Zithromax to countries that implement the “SAFE” strategy, a public-health approach recommended by the World Health Organization for the elimination of trachoma. SAFE is an acronym for Surgery for late-stage disease, Antibiotics for active infection, Face washing to prevent disease transmission, and Environmental change, including clean water and sanitation.

Mauritania’s launch today of its national trachoma program supports a larger global effort made possible in part by Pfizer’s recent pledge to donate up to 135 million treatments for trachoma control over the next five years. As an oral medication, Zithromax is easier to administer than tetracycline eye ointment, previously the standard treatment for trachoma.

An estimated 16% of Mauritania’s population of 3 million suffer from active trachoma infection. The country’s National Program of Blindness Prevention is working with ITI, Lions Clubs International Foundation, AmeriCares, the World Health Organization and Bouamatou Foundation to eliminate blinding trachoma by 2010. As part of the program, Zithromax is administered annually, with approximately 140,000 people expected to receive the drug in 2004. In addition, 600 sight-saving eyelid surgeries will be conducted along with a public awareness campaign. According to Professor Sidi Ely Ahmedou, who heads up the trachoma campaign, “With the donation of Zithromax, we now have the tools we need to rid my country once and for all from the scourge of blinding trachoma.”

In its fight against trachoma, Mauritania is learning from Morocco’s experience as the first country to implement the SAFE strategy with Zithromax. Since 1997, Morocco has achieved a 90 percent reduction in the prevalence of active trachoma infection among children under ten years old. Morocco has trained Mauritanian health workers to perform surgeries, develop health education materials and complete disease prevalence survey work.

Trachoma is endemic in 55 countries, with an estimated 84 million infected and 8 million visually impaired. Women are three times more likely than men to be blinded by trachoma, and because the disease causes blindness in the most productive years of a person’s life, it can ruin the economic well-being of entire families and communities. One expert study has estimated that blindness from trachoma costs the world $2.9 billion in lost productivity every year.

AmeriCares partners with ITI to combat blinding trachoma in six countries.

The International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) and AmeriCares are working together to bring Zithromax, an effective antibiotic against blinding trachoma, to trachoma-endemic communities. This partnership was created to handle the massive scale-up in Zithromax treatments resulting from Pfizer’s decision to donate up to 135 million treatments over the next five years.

In addition to Mauritania, AmeriCares will be providing the antibiotic to Mali, Nepal, Niger, Morocco and Senegal. “AmeriCares is known for our humanitarian work around the world. Through our partnership with the International Trachoma Initiative, we are committed to providing meaningful and sustainable assistance to the world’s poorest communities,” said Curtis R.Welling, President and CEO of AmeriCares.

Together, ITI and AmeriCares plan to provide more than 10 million treatments of Zithromax to communities suffering from trachoma in 2004.

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Category: Press Release