The spread of infectious blindness must be halted

I was saddened to read this story yesterday about trachoma, the leading cause of infectious blindness in the world. The most upsetting thing is that this village, where half of the people are at risk of blindness, is not unusual. In fact millions are affected worldwide.

You may not have heard of it as it is unusual in the UK and a short burst of antibiotics usually sees it off. However in developing nations numbers with the disease are alarming.

Like bacterial conjunctivitis, the disease is most common in children between one and five years old. If you have children and spotted the symptoms of conjunctivitis you probably popped in to see me, the GP or your local chemist, to get a course of eye drops and that was that – trachoma is just as simple to treat. However the medical care in the areas worst affected is just not there and untreated trachoma infections cause the inside surface of the eyelid to become rough and then scar. The scarring causes the eyelashes to start turning inwards where they scratch the cornea with every blink making it eventually turn opaque causing blindness after years of pain.

WHO launched an initiative called “SAFE” which stands for Surgery for trichiasis (inturned eyelashes), Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvement in the 1990’s. Since its invention it has administered over 50 million antibiotic treatments however, clearly so much more needs to be done. Hopefully raising awareness of the disease in developed nations will help raise vital funds in a bid to stem the spread of trachoma. Find out more about this condition here

Retinal transplants could restore sight to the blind

Cell transplants to restore the sight of blind people could start within a decade, according to researchers who have successfully implanted light-sensitive cells into mice.

The first successful transplantation of photoreceptors — the nerve cells which line the back of the eye —marks a major advance in efforts to repair the visual system. The research could have a significant impact on many currently untreatable eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. Macular degeneration accounts for more blindness in the developed world than all other eye diseases combined. The successful treatment of blind mice comes in the wake of many attempts to repair a damaged retina, notably by the use of stem cells, immature cells capable of developing into other types. Barbara McLaughlan, of the Royal National Institute of the Blind, said: “This is exciting news but it is important not to raise the hopes of people who have lost their sight until the results of human trials become available.”

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