By Geoffrey Knox provides the latest data on blinding trachoma and personal stories about the devastating impact of this neglected tropical disease on millions worldwide

(Atlanta, GA—January 18) The International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) launched today a new website to educate, build awareness, and generate support for the global elimination of blinding trachoma. While trachoma is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness, too few people realize that 41 million people, mostly women and children in poorer countries, have active trachoma and desperately need treatment. The other little-known fact is that trachoma is easily prevented and treated and can actually be eliminated as a public health threat. The new ITI website aims to communicate these facts and advocate for greater support for the SAFE Strategy—an innovative public health approach that combines trachoma treatment (Surgery and Antibiotics) with prevention (Facial-cleanliness and Environmental improvement).

The new ITI website at has clear navigation, concise text, compelling photos and new features that include:

* Interactive maps so visitors can click on countries where ITI is working and get information, such as districts that are receiving treatment with the Pfizer-donated antibiotic Zithromax® and the target date for elimination within each country

* Multi-media features such as videos, blogs, and photo slideshows that tell the personal stories of women, men, and children suffering from blinding trachoma

* Social media connections, including Facebook and Twitter , to spread awareness about trachoma and build support for elimination efforts among a broader public audience

The site is entirely available in French and on low-bandwidth for visitors who do not have a high-speed Internet connection.

The new site is focused on providing accurate data as well as compelling stories about some of the estimated 8.2 million people who have an advanced stage of trachoma in which the eyelashes turn inward and scrape the cornea. These people face the risk of visual impairment or blindness unless treated with a simple surgical procedure. Trachoma is believed to be endemic in 57 countries. Globally, 1.2 billion people live in trachoma-endemic areas, primarily in the poorest communities in the developing world.

“We want to be a one-stop shop for the latest information on blinding trachoma,” said Dr. Danny Haddad, Director of ITI. “Along with ensuring the supply and distribution of Zithromax®, knowledge management and advocacy are pillars of ITI's mission. Our new site provides scientific background for researchers and students, the latest developments to help partners fight trachoma in different countries, and ways to engage new audiences so they understand the impact of trachoma and that it can be treated, prevented, and ultimately eliminated.”

ITI works with governments, the private sector, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to fight trachoma and the other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that restrict human development, especially in Africa. ITI's primary mission is to manage the donation of Zithromax® from Pfizer to treat and prevent blinding trachoma. To date, Pfizer has donated 225 million treatments of Zithromax® to people in 19 countries.

"Trachoma is a tremendous public health challenge, and visitors to need to be able to explore this challenge in the ways that uniquely suit them,” said Michael Baxter, a principal of Resonance, the Atlanta-based firm that designed the new website. “We approached the design of with a mantra of message first. Trachoma is a public health challenge that can be conquered. It must be conquered. By creating an online experience rather than just providing information, we sought to engage visitors and inspire them to take action."

The site also features information on ITI partners internationally, such as the World Health Organization, which leads the global effort to eliminate blinding trachoma by 2020, called GET 2020 .

Blindness from Trachoma
Trachoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness. Trachoma originates from an eye infection that can be spread from person to person. It is frequently passed from child to child and from child to mother within the family, especially in environmental conditions of water shortages, flies, and crowded households. Through the discharge from an infected person's eyes, trachoma is passed on by hands, on clothing, or by flies that land on the person's face. Infections often begin during infancy or childhood and become chronic.

If left untreated, these infections can eventually cause the eyelid to turn inward which causes the eyelashes to rub on the eyeball, resulting in intense pain. This condition, called trichiasis, can ultimately lead to irreversible blindness, typically beginning in adulthood and often resulting in deepening poverty for individuals and their families.

Women are twice as likely as men to have trichiasis,[1] probably due to their close contact with infected children, and are therefore most in need of surgical services, access to antibiotics, education, and environmental improvements such as water and sanitation.

The International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) is a non-governmental organization working to prevent, treat, and ultimately eliminate blinding trachoma. Working in 19 countries in Africa and Asia, ITI is a major proponent and facilitator of the SAFE strategy to prevent and eliminate trachoma through Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvement. ITI, a program of the Task Force for Global Health, collaborates with international agencies, governmental, and non-governmental organizations to build targeted support—including Zithromax® donated by Pfizer—for the SAFE strategy, operational research and program evaluation, education and advocacy.