The strategy focuses on ensuring that those who need surgery to stop the eyelashes turning inwards receive it; antibiotics are made available to those who need them; people are taught the importance of facial cleanliness; and improvements to water and sanitation are made.
Trachoma is endemic in 44 countries and since 2011 eight countries have eliminated the disease. Last year Ghana became the first sub Saharan African country to wipe it out.
The new statistics also show that the number of people requiring surgery for trachomatous trichiasis, the late, blinding stage of trachoma, has also dropped from 7.6 million in 2002 to 2.5 million in 2019 – a decline of 68 per cent.
In 2018 alone, 144,981 cases of blinding trachoma were operated on and more than 90 million people were treated with antibiotics – donated by pharmaceutical firm Pfizer until 2025 – in 745 districts worldwide.
In 1996 the WHO launched the alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma with the goal of eradicating the disease by 2020. That target will be missed but experts hope that recent gains in tackling the disease will mean that it will soon be consigned to history.
Dr Anthony Solomon, medical officer for neglected tropical diseases for the World Health Organization, said: “This is great progress, but we cannot afford to become complacent. We should be able to relegate trachoma to the history books in the next few years, but we will only do so by redoubling our efforts now. The last few countries are likely to be the hardest.”