ZAMBIA—The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, a global philanthropy, has contributed US$2.19 million to Sightsavers’ fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

This grant will help treat eye problems like cataracts and tackle severe diseases including river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, intestinal worms, and schistosomiasis, many of which cause sight loss in Zambia.

This is part of Helmsley ‘s commitment to eliminating onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, and schistosomiasis in Sub-Saharan Africa as part of its efforts to enhance rural health, infrastructure, and economic growth.

 This grant reflects Helmsley’s broader support for resilient global health systems and investments in better healthcare that spans all six of their program areas.

The charitable organization works with individuals and groups to fund novel ideas or research in six program areas: Crohn’s Disease, Israel, Rural Healthcare, Type 1 Diabetes, Vulnerable Children in Sub-Saharan Africa, and New York City.

This highlights their commitment to helping people live safer, better, and more fulfilling lives today while funding advances in research and technology for a better tomorrow.

The grant was revealed at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum in Dubai, when US$777 million  were pledged to fight the 21 NTDs.

This development comes in the wake of the World Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Day, which is slated to take place on Tuesday, January 30, whereby WHO is calling on everyone to unite, act, and end the scourge of diseases like trachoma.

The Charitable Trust is dedicated to helping people live better lives now while also building stronger, healthier futures for individuals and communities.

 Trachoma is caused by a bacterial infection called Chlamydia trachomatis, and the symptoms are similar to conjunctivitis.

However, frequent infections cause scarring, causing people’s eyelashes to curve inwards and scrape painfully against the eye with every blink, and if left untreated, it can lead to vision loss and eventual blindness.

Trachoma is a public health issue in 42 countries, causing around 1.9 million people to go blind or have visual impairment.

Trachoma blindness is irreversible, and according to WHO data from June 2022, 125 million people live in trachoma-endemic countries and are at danger of blindness.

Infection spreads by physical touch (via hands, clothes, bedding, or hard surfaces) as well as flies that have come into contact with an infected person’s eye or nose discharge.

In 2021, 69 266 people underwent surgical treatment for advanced stages of the disease, while 64.6 million people were treated with antibiotics, resulting in a global antibiotic coverage of 44%.

More than 3.6 million people live in 33 districts in Zambia, and they require assistance in the last stages of their efforts to eradicate trachoma.

With the help of charities such as Sightsavers and other partners, Zambia’s government is spearheading the fight to eliminate the disease as a public health issue.

 Walter Panzirer, Trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust, stated that Sightsavers is in a position to help make history by assisting Zambia in eliminating trachoma, and that the organization already has a successful track record in this area, having worked with governments in Ghana, Gambia, Malawi, Benin, and Mali.

Panzirer hopes that with Helmsley money, Sightsavers can help Zambia eliminate this terrible disease.

Caroline Harper, Chief Executive of Sightsavers, stated that individuals describe the discomfort of trachoma as having sand or thorns in their eyes, which can prevent them from working, farming, cooking, caring for their family, or attending school.

She expressed her delight that Helmsley Charitable Trust’s generous grant will help them transform the numerous lives of persons with trachoma.

Sightsavers has more than 70 years of expertise working with governments in over 30 countries to control and eradicate NTDs.

To date, they have helped health ministries deliver approximately 1.7 billion NTD treatments.

At the Reaching the Last Mile Forum, Sightsavers pledged an additional US$60 million to eliminate trachoma, river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, and intestinal worms in Africa. 

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