Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University has announced a $10 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to lead the Partnership for the Rapid Elimination of Trachoma, a consortium that will study ways to improve the treatment of trachoma and to accelerate progress towards eliminating the disease.
The grant, one of the largest ever given to support trachoma research, will fund trials in surgery and antibiotics in Gambia, where the disease is on the verge of elimination; Tanzania, where treatment programs are in place and the disease is on the decline; and Ethiopia, where treatment programs have not yet started. The surgical phase of the study will examine the use of new devices to improve outcomes of surgery, and the antibiotic trials will address questions of how many persons in the community must be treated and how frequently treatment should occur to eliminate trachoma. Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide and affects hundreds of millions of people, primarily in poor and rural regions.
The PRET will be led by Sheila West of the Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins, in cooperation with the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health. Partners will include research teams at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of California, San Francisco, Pfizer, the World Health Organization, and the Trachoma Control Programs at the Ministries of Health in Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Gambia.
"Trachoma disproportionately affects women and children in poor communities and they often don't have a voice in priorities for health spending," said West, who is also a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and holds a joint appointment at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. "With this grant, we can target research to our trachoma control armamentarium and make better use of scarce resources and control strategies to alleviate blindness. None of us can do it on our own — we need to share the data among us to conquer the disease."