Trachoma is the world’s leading infectious cause of irreversible blindness. The disease disappeared from Australian cities and towns over 100 years ago. But we remain the last developed country in the world where this disease is still considered endemic.
It persists in some of our outback Indigenous communities. It does so in communities where living standards are inadequate, where there is a lack of functional, maintained washing facilities, and where homes are chronically overcrowded. Current personal and community hygiene practices allow the frequent spreading of infected secretions from one child to another, and although trachoma is easily treated with antibiotics, it is the frequent recurrent infections that damage the eyelids and cause blindness.
In 2008, Australia joined the World Health Organisation in their global goal to eliminate trachoma by 2020 and committed to extensive funding of programs aimed at trachoma’s elimination. Since then, a coordinated effort to treat trachoma with antibiotics and promote hygiene saw levels of trachoma reduce from 21%, to 4.6% in 2015. However, to stop trachoma transmission and to stop trachoma bouncing back, we must work on prevention. We must make sure all children in these communities can keep their faces clean, and that they have safe, functional washing facilities.
Led by the Rotary Club of Melbourne, EndTrachoma by 2020 unites Rotary clubs across Australia, to work towards eliminating trachoma by preventing the spread of infection that causes this avoidable blindness. This project is endorsed by 2017-18 Rotary International President, Australian Ian Riseley, and Zone Director Noel Trevaskis, and has been endorsed as a project to commemorate Rotary Australia’s centenary year in 2021. More information can be found at http://www.endtrachoma2020.org.au.