16 May 2023

Accelerating trachoma elimination in Benin

How partnership between governments, NGO partners and philanthropy has helped reach this extraordinary milestone

As of Tuesday 16th May, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially validated Benin as having eliminated trachoma as a public health problem. This is a huge milestone, the result of partnership between stakeholders at every level, from the Ministry of Health to communities on the ground, to programme implementation with support from Sightsavers. It also demonstrates that elimination is possible, and success is replicable – with the right partners and sustained commitment from philanthropies like CIFF, BMGF, ELMA Philanthropies and others. Read more about why this milestone is important, how we got there and what’s next…

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What exactly is Trachoma and how does it affect people?

Trachoma is the leading cause of infectious blindness in the world. It is a bacterial infection of the eye which spreads from person to person, particularly from child-to-child and child-to-mother. The disease thrives especially in crowded living conditions where there are shortages of water, inadequate sanitation and where numerous eye-seeking flies are present. In the communities affected, the infection is often first encountered in infancy or childhood, and women are disproportionately impacted.

The impacts of trachoma can go way beyond the physical – the pain caused by the infection can have a severe impact on quality of life, the loss of sight can often result in loss of livelihood, and the cumulative economic impact of trachoma reaches the billions of dollars. Trachoma is endemic in 42 countries, with Africa bearing 80% of the global burden.

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What is CIFF’s partnership with Sightsavers doing to help?

CIFF has been partnering with Sightsavers since 2018, working to accelerate the elimination of trachoma in the African continent. The Accelerate programme has been focused on trachoma elimination in 14 countries in Africa: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

In alignment with each country’s national NTD strategies, Sightsavers are working to support thousands of sight-saving surgeries, millions of preventative azithromycin treatments through Mass Drug Administration, educational and behavioural change interventions, transmission surveys in order to provide evidence for progress, training to thousands of health workers and many surgeons to build health systems in the long term, as well as conducting research to advance the understanding of trachoma.

The government of Benin has shown incredible leadership in their commitment to elimination, by providing the necessary resources and support to implement the World Health Organization’s recommended strategy. Local communities were also instrumental in the success of the programme, as they were actively involved in the implementation of the SAFE strategy, which includes: Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness & Environmental improvements. The Accelerate programme has done exactly what it should, accelerated success – and helped Benin reach elimination sooner, meaning millions fewer people will be affected by this painful and life-changing disease.

And what’s been the impact?

Benin is the first country in the Accelerate programme to have reached validated trachoma elimination. This is a milestone worth celebrating. Underneath the headline, there are many other indicators of impact worth highlighting:

  • 788 cases of advanced trachoma were managed, mostly through eyesight surgeries.
  • Over 1.2 million households have been reached with the promotion of good hygiene practices.
  • And now 3.4 million people are no longer at risk of losing their sight.

What’s next?

Eliminating trachoma entirely is a goal within grasp. We are proud to be amongst the group of philanthropic donors working with Sightsavers, alongside the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The ELMA Foundation, UK Aid and Virgin Unite. But more co-funding is needed if we’re going to replicate this success.




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“Congratulations to Benin on eliminating the painfully blinding disease trachoma and proving the value of investing in the fight against neglected tropical diseases. 

“Thanks to the government’s leadership, with partners like Sightsavers, 3.4 million people are no longer at risk of losing their sight in agony to this disease. That’s a third of Benin’s population.

“The benefits of ending diseases of poverty like trachoma ripple through society, transforming lives and communities. Neglected tropical diseases cost households over $33 billion every year from paying for treatment and travel costs to clinics, as well as lost wages. I’m proud that CIFF’s investment is helping to change that.” Chris Hohn, CIFF Founder and Chair

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Eliminating trachoma in Benin is a testament to what can be done through strong government leadership, expert programmatic partners such as Sightsavers and the catalytic power of philanthropy. It demonstrates the power of a localised approach, which values community knowledge and works alongside Ministry of Health priorities.”

“CIFF’s long-term investment in Neglected Tropical Diseases recognises that these debilitating conditions are complex and the last mile towards elimination is often the hardest step. While there is still more to be done to defeat NTDs for good, milestones of success like this show that collectively, we can have a profound impact.” – Faustina Fynn-Nyame, CIFF Executive Director, Africa