Trachoma is an infectious eye disease caused by repeated infection by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis and it is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness. About 21.4 million people, mostly women and children, in 53 endemic countries have active trachoma infection and need treatment. Another 8.2 million people are estimated to have an advanced stage of the disease, called trichiasis, in which the eyelashes turn inward and scrape the cornea. People with trichiasis face the risk of visual impairment or blindness unless treated with antibiotics and a simple surgical procedure. The poorest of the poor suffer most from trachoma, particularly those with limited access to water and sanitation. Because trachoma is transmitted through close personal contact, it tends to occur in clusters — often infecting entire families and communities. Globally, an estimated 325 million people live in trachoma-endemic areas.
In 1998, Pfizer and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation co-established the ITI, an independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to the elimination of blinding trachoma. Housed at The Task Force for Global Health, ITI manages Pfizer’s global donation of the antibiotic Zithromax and collaborates with governmental and nongovernmental agencies at local, national and international levels to implement the SAFE strategy. Pfizer also funds a significant portion of ITI’s activities worldwide. To date, Pfizer has donated 280 million Zithromax® treatments through ITI. This medicine has reached millions of people in 19 countries. ITI plans to be active in more than 42 countries by 2015.