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Pfizer Boosts Eye Med Program To NZ$820m

Pfizer Dramatically Boosts Program To $NZ 820 Million To Eliminate Blinding Trachoma In The Developing World

A global donation program by medicines company Pfizer to eliminate trachoma, the blinding eye infection common in the developing world, is being dramatically expanded.

Pfizer says its International Trachoma Initiative donation program, which is in its fifth year, is showing a reduction in acute infections in children by as much as 50 percent in some program areas.

As part of the program’s expansion, Pfizer will donate 135 million treatments of its antibiotic, azithromycin, in addition to the eight million treatments administered over the last five years – a 15-fold expansion.

Pfizer has spent $NZ480m to date on the International Trachoma Initiative and expects to spend another $NZ820m over the next five years.

The goal of completely eliminating blinding trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness, now seems possible by 2020, a date set by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to results published in the November issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Trachoma has been a public health plague since ancient times and is currently prevalent in the poorest parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, where clean water and sanitation are scarce.

Under the direction of the International Trachoma Initiative – a partnership among Pfizer, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, national governments and non-governmental organisations – programs are now under way in nine countries: Morocco, Ghana, Mali, Tanzania, Vietnam, Sudan, Niger, Nepal and Ethiopia.

“We are winning the fight against blindness from trachoma because we have an extraordinary strategy and effective partnerships in our program countries,” said Pfizer New Zealand Medical Director Dr Craig Eagle.

“Building on the momentum of our achievements to date, we are launching at least 10 new country programs.

“Based on the progress to date, it is now realistic to hope for something that was unimaginable just a few years ago - that within the next 20 years we will ensure that trachoma is largely unheard of ever again.”

In Morocco, the first country to implement the International Trachoma Initiative, there has been a 90 percent reduction in the prevalence of active trachoma infection among children under 10 since 1997. Morocco expects to eliminate blinding trachoma entirely by the end of 2005.

In Vietnam, where the government had already reduced the prevalence of trachoma from more than 60 percent in 1960 to less than 10 percent in 1996, pockets of the debilitating disease remain.

The Vietnam trachoma program's objective is to eliminate blinding trachoma by 2010. The program area, with an estimated population of 1.8 million, includes 243 communes in 13 districts. Since 2000 some 16,000 eye operations have been completed and more than 440,000 antibiotic treatments have been administered. . Trachoma is a chronic, contagious infection that over time results in in-turned eyelashes, which then scratch and scar the cornea, leading to blindness if not treated. Trachoma is endemic in 48 countries, with an estimated 146 million infected. Women are two to three times more likely than men to be infected 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 the economies of developing countries lose $2.9 billion in productivity per year to blindness caused by trachoma.

Through the ITI, Pfizer donates azithromycin to countries that implement the “SAFE” strategy, which the WHO recommends as the most effective way to treat trachoma. SAFE includes these components:
* surgery for late-stage disease;

* antibiotics for active infection;

* improved facial hygiene and environmental change, such as improved access to clean water and sanitation.

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