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Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Pfizer Celebrate 15-Year Effort to Help End Blinding Trachoma as Public Health Concern

A video segment on President Carter’s visit to Pfizer's New York Headquarters.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter recently joined Pfizer to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), an independent, not-for-profit program dedicated to the elimination of blinding trachoma as a public health concern. Trachoma is an infectious eye disease that is a leading cause of blindness and suffering in the poorest regions of the world. Pfizer has provided hundreds of millions of doses of the antibiotic Zithromax® (azithromycin) to help the global campaign wipe out blinding trachoma by the year 2020.

“The Pfizer donation of Zithromax was momentous in trachoma control, and The Carter Center was pleased to go to scale in trachoma endemic countries to get the medicine into the villages and demonstrate the world could end blinding trachoma,” President Carter said during a celebration with partners, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and Pfizer employees at the company’s headquarters in Manhattan.

“The progress and success of the trachoma campaign is something every Pfizer colleague can be proud of. Through the 15-year partnership, millions of people worldwide will be spared the injustice, indignity and pain of their eyelashes scratching and scarring their eyes,” added President Carter, founder of The Carter Center, a pioneer in disease eradication and elimination activities.

Pfizer, through the ITI, has donated more than 340 million doses of the antibiotic to date to prevent and treat trachoma in support of the World Health Organization (WHO)-led Global Alliance for the Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020.

“We are honored to have President Carter join Pfizer to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the ITI program and gratified about the progress that has been made toward eliminating blinding trachoma as a public health concern,” said Ian Read, Pfizer Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “Pfizer joins President Carter and others in envisioning a world where blinding trachoma has been eliminated. I speak for the entire Pfizer community in reiterating our desire, along with partners like The Carter Center and ITI, to helping end the suffering by 2020.

”ITI has managed the distribution of the antibiotic to 28 countries in Africa and Asia since 1998, said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, interim director of ITI. “Trachoma brings extraordinary human suffering and economic devastation to tens of millions of people, mostly women and children in poorer countries,” Dr. Rosenberg said. “It can be prevented, treated and eliminated.”

In the early 1900s, trachoma could be found in New York City, where Pfizer is located, and in President Carter’s hometown of Plains, Ga. The leading cause of infectious blindness, trachoma was eliminated from the United States in the 1970s. Today, trachoma remains in the world’s most isolated and neglected communities. Approximately 320 million people worldwide are at risk for contracting trachoma, with about 7 million suffering from the advanced, blinding stage of the disease.

After years of untreated trachoma infections, the eyelids turn inward, and the lashes scrape the cornea with every excruciating blink, damaging vision. Women and children suffer most from trachoma, which blinds one person every 15 minutes.

On Nov. 10, the 100 millionth Carter Center-assisted dose of Zithromax is expected to be distributed in Amhara Region, Ethiopia, during a celebration with the Ethiopian government, Pfizer, ITI, the Lions Clubs International Foundation and Lions of Ethiopia, and other partners. The Amhara Region is thought to be the most trachoma-endemic area in the world, and together the partners are actively working to demonstrate that blinding trachoma can be eliminated from a highly endemic country.

Already, The Carter Center, together with the Ministry of Health and other partners in Ethiopia, has helped demonstrate that community-directed infrastructures for preventing trachoma can mobilize millions of people to accept treatment and adopt behavior changes to improve their own lives, even in remote areas where there is limited access to basic medical care, water and sanitation.

The international trachoma campaign uses the SAFE strategy, approved by the WHO, to prevent and treat trachoma. SAFE stands for: Surgery to prevent blindness; Antibiotics to treat active infections; Facial cleanliness; and Environmental improvements, such as latrines to reduce the breeding grounds of flies that help spread the disease.

Using these interventions, Ghana, Morocco, Oman, Vietnam, Iran and The Gambia have all achieved great success against this debilitating infection. Mali, Niger, and Sudan also are on track to make significant inroads in their fight against blinding trachoma by 2015.

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