Trachoma & Trichiasis: What is it?

Trachoma is an infectious eye disease and one of the leading causes of blindness globally.

Trachoma infection can be prevented and treated, but many repeated infections can lead to another condition called trichiasis.

This is a painful condition where the eyelids turn inwards and the eyelashes rub against the surface of the eye. Without treatment, it can lead to irreversible blindness.

Did you know that 55% of the world’s trachoma is found in Ethiopia? Help us reach the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) target to eliminate trachoma from Ethiopia by 2030.

What Is Trachoma?

Trachoma is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the outer eye.

The disease disappeared from most industrialised nations by the 1950s as housing improved, overcrowding lessened and indoor bathrooms became more common.

However, it is still common in areas of the world where there is poor sanitation, a lack of clean water and overcrowded housing.

What Causes Trachoma?

According to the WHO, trachoma spreads where there is poor sanitation, water shortages and crowded households.

Trachoma infection is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatous, which is easily spread by flies and through contact with an infected person, their clothes and bedding.

What Are the Symptoms of Trachoma?

The symptoms of trachoma are:

  • Itching and irritation of the eyes and eyelids
  • Eye discharge
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Light sensitivity
  • Eye pain
  • Eye redness

What Is Trichiasis?

Trichiasis happens when repeated infections cause the upper eyelid to turn inwards so that eyelashes scrape on the eyeball.

This is excruciatingly painful and can cause permanent scarring of the cornea. If left untreated, trichiasis will lead to blindness in most cases.

Women make up 70% of people with trichiasis in Ethiopia.

This is largely because traditional gender roles mean that women are still more likely spend more time with their children.

Children aged one to nine are most likely to be infected with the disease.

How Is Trachoma Prevented and Treated?

Trachoma can be prevented and treated with:

  • Eyelid surgery to treat trichiasis
  • Antibiotics
  • Promoting education and awareness of facial cleanliness
  • Clean water points and sanitary toilets

The WHO SAFE strategy targets trachoma elimination within affected countries by four key initiatives:

  • Surgery for eyelashes turned inwards
  • Antibiotics to stop or slow the spread of infection
  • Facial cleanliness which prevents transmission and infection
  • Environmental improvement, particularly water for washing faces and using covered toilets to reduce transmission

An Orbis-trained eye care worker performing trichiasis surgery

How Is Orbis Tackling Trachoma and Trichiasis?

Thanks to our supporters and programme partners, Orbis is making progress on eliminating trachoma and trichiasis and preventing avoidable blindness.

All of our trachoma elimination work uses the SAFE strategy.

We have:

  • Trained nurses in Ethiopia to perform over 250,000 trichiasis surgeries at local, primary healthcare units
  • Delivered over 100 million doses of the trachoma-fighting-antibiotic, azithromycin, in southern Ethiopia
  • Educated communities and school children on clean faces to prevent trachoma infection and where to get treatment if needed
  • Worked with partners to educate communities to use covered toilets to reduce transmission through flies


Can you help us eliminate trachoma and trichiasis around the world?

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