Helmsley pledge $2.19 million to help end blinding disease in Zambia

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust has joined Sightsavers in the global fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), with a grant of US$2.19 million to help eliminate the blinding disease in Zambia. The funding was announced at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum in Dubai where a total of $777m US dollars were pledged to help fight the 21 conditions classed as NTDs.

Trachoma begins as a bacterial infection, with symptoms similar to conjunctivitis. But repeated infections cause scarring that makes people’s eyelashes turn inwards and scrape painfully against the eye with every blink. Left untreated it leads to sight loss and permanent blindness.

In Zambia, 33 districts, home to more than 3.6 million people, need support in the final stages of their journey to eliminate trachoma. The Zambian government are leading the fight to eliminate the disease as a public health problem, with the support of organisations like Sightsavers and other partners.

Walter Panzirer, Trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust said: “Sightsavers is in a position to help make history by supporting Zambia to eliminate trachoma and already has a strong track record in this area, having worked with governments to successfully eliminate trachoma in Ghana, Gambia, Malawi, Benin and Mali. We hope that Helmsley funding can fuel momentum towards Zambia eliminating this horrific disease.

Caroline Harper, Chief Executive for Sightsavers, said: “People describe the pain of trachoma as like having sand or thorns in their eyes. It can stop them from earning a living, farming, cooking, caring for their family or going to school. We’re excited that Helmsley Charitable Trust’s generous donation can help us to transform so many lives.”

Sightsavers has more than 70 years’ experience working with governments in more than 30 countries to control and eliminate NTDs. To date, they have supported ministries of health to deliver over 1.7 billion NTD treatments.

At the Reaching the Last Mile Forum, Sightsavers pledged a further $60m towards eliminating trachoma, river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis and intestinal worms in countries across Africa.

Helmsley stands behind efforts to eliminate onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, and schistosomiasis in sub-Saharan Africa as part of its efforts to improve health, infrastructure, and economic development in rural communities. This grant reflects Helmsley’s broader support for resilient global health systems and investments in better healthcare that span all six of their program areas, highlighting their commitment to helping people live safer, better, and more fulfilling lives today while funding advancements in research and technology for a better tomorrow.

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