Myths vs. Reality: Trachoma in Tanzania

Reprinted with permission from Seed to Sight.

A public health intern shares her experience working with Helen Keller International.

By: Hannah Godlove

Hannah Godlove - Tanzania Intern

The first time I saw a trichiasis surgery to correct blinding trachoma I almost passed out. It was pretty embarrassing to have someone sit me down and bring me a Fanta for my blood sugar after seeing me wobble. It was even worse when that someone was waiting for her own surgery.

I have been working with Helen Keller International’s trachoma control program in Tanzania for almost three months. A little background: trachoma is a blinding disease that often infects children. Without treatment, the eyelid inverts, the eyelashes begin to scratch the cornea, and the patient eventually goes blind. To treat trachoma and prevent blindness, patients can either take the drug azythromycin or, in the later stage of the disease, they can undergo a fairly simple surgical procedure. The outpatient procedure prevents the eyelid from inverting.

In Tanzania, nearly one third of the population is at risk of contracting trachoma and the surgical backlog in the Mtwara and Lindi regions of Tanzania alone is estimated to be 67,500 people. Living in Mtwara, I see tons of older people walking around blinded by this wretched disease.

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