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A Quiet Disease

Pain in the eyes
Since she was a child Loveness Mphanie of Mangulu Village has suffered from the excruciating pain of trachoma.

This is an infection which starts as an irritation in the eye, but during repeated infections eventually causes the eyelids to turn inwards and the eyelashes rub on the cornea at the front of the eye.

This leads to scarring, which in turn results in severe vision loss and blindness, usually when people are 40 to 50 years old. In Loveness’ case, the untreated infection caused her eyelids to turn inwards, causing pain every time she blinked.

fashion tweezers

Fashion tweezers
For some people, tweezers become a fashion accessory, being worn as a necklace. They are used to pluck out the turned-in eyelashes as a way of relieving the pain. However, this is at best only a temporary measure, as the eyelashes usually grow back.

Trachoma is a ‘quiet’ disease. It remains hidden in rural communities where people live in overcrowded conditions and have limited access to water and health care.

Yet six million people world-wide have already lost their sight through trachoma and many more are affected – resulting in many people simply accepting it as a ‘fact of life’.

eye test

Restricted vision
Before Loveness was treated for her trachoma, she could only see 4 metres with her left and 5 metres with her right eye. She had to rely on her husband for everyday things and found it hard to look after her children.

Had it been treated in the early stages, she would only have needed to use an eye ointment – but once the infection has progressed, an operation is needed.

After diagnosis at an eye screening camp, Loveness was immediately taken to the local health clinic where it took a simple 20-minute operation to turn her eyelids outward.

a hug

Prevention is better than cure
Early treatment of trachoma can cure the infection, and scientists are currently testing long acting oral antibiotics that may be effective even in a single dose.

Whilst this is good news, prevention is far better than cures. Community members can prevent Trachoma and its transmission through environmental changes, such as better access to water and improved sanitation facilities.

Even simple practices such as regular face washing can help win the fight against Trachoma. In villages in Tanzania and Egypt where face washing has increased, the spread of Trachoma has been reduced.