Carter sees worthy cause in fighting eye disease in Africa
October 23, 1999
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn are lending their clout to an African public health campaign designed to control a blinding eye disease called trachoma.
Trachoma, a highly contagious bacterial infection of the upper eyelid, affects 146 million people worldwide. Six million people are sightless because of the disease.
The trachoma bacterium causes the eyelid to turn inward. As a result, the eyelashes scratch the cornea, causing blindness. Children living in poverty are especially vulnerable.
"There's a fairly painful procedure of plucking out all the child's eyelashes...and treatment beyond that to prevent a recurrence of the illness," said Jimmy Carter. Carter has spearheaded several programs in Africa to fight debilitating, but largely unpublicized, diseases such as guinea worm and river blindness.
Antibiotics can kill the trachoma bacteria, but simple hygiene can control the disease. The Carters are working with health officials to explain to villagers in Mali and other African countries that they can prevent trachoma by washing their hands more frequently with clean water.
After starting in Mali, the Carters' trachoma eradication program moves into Ghana, Niger and Nigeria.
"It's emotional to see the appreciation and the dedication that these African people have when they learn what they can do themselves to correct an ancient problem that may have been there 10,000 years or more," said Carter.
The former president recently returned from Africa and plans another trip next month.
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