Press Release

Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Joins Forces with Public and Private Partners during the 2017 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos with the Common Goal of Accelerating the End of Neglected Tropical Diseases

January 23, 2017

(LOS ANGELES) Jan. 23, 2017 – On Jan. 20, during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation joined forces with The END Fund and other key partners committed to accelerating progress on neglected tropical diseases, including Bill Gates, co-founder, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Ken Frazier, chairman and CEO at Merck; and Tsitsi Masiyiwa, executive chair, Higherlife Foundation; and more.

Residents of a village in Mali are screened for trachoma, a neglected tropical disease and the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. Photo courtesy of The Carter Center.

During the meeting, the Hilton Foundation announced that it recently committed $11.725 million in grants toward the elimination of trachoma in Mali and Niger by the year 2020. Three grants were awarded to organizations working towards elimination of trachoma as a public health problem in Mali and Niger: The Carter Center was granted $5.1 million, and $5.975 million was awarded to Helen Keller International for this effort. Sightsavers, Inc. was awarded $650,000 to contribute to the elimination of trachoma in Mali.

In 1997, the Hilton Foundation approved a commitment of $20 million to support the global elimination of blinding trachoma, with grants made to the following partners: The Carter Center, International Trachoma Initiative, Helen Keller International and World Vision. With the commitments presented in this announcement, the Foundation has dedicated an additional $44 million, bringing total commitments backing this cause to $64 million.

“We are thrilled to be part of an incredible alliance with our partners working to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem in Mali and Niger by 2020,” said Peter Laugharn, president and CEO of the Hilton Foundation. “I have seen firsthand the devastating effects that neglected tropical diseases have, and no one should have to suffer from a disease that is preventable. This is an unparalleled moment in time where opportunity and resources are met with the collaborative spirit of commitment to alleviate the suffering of populations all over the world experiencing the effects of blinding trachoma. I believe that through collective compassion, collaboration and smart solutions, we can achieve this goal. Trachoma is a neglected tropical disease and is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness, affecting millions of people in the world’s poorest communities where there is a lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Trachoma is spread from person to person through contact with contaminated hands, fabrics and eye-seeking flies.

It often begins in early childhood, and is worsened by episodes of reinfection. This causes inflammation and scarring of the inner eyelid. The eyelashes touch and scratch the surface of the eyeball through blinking, and this repeated action leads to horrific pain and irreversible blindness.

Today, 1.9 million people are blind or moderately to severely visually impaired because of trachoma and some 200 million people living in endemic areas across 42 countries on five continents are still at risk of contracting this highly infectious disease that disproportionately affects women and children. The disease is responsible for an estimated annual productivity loss of up to US $8 billion. Africa remains the continent most affected by this disease with approximately 183 million people at risk of trachoma.

In 1996, the World Health Organization created the WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET2020), a global partnership of member states, NGOs, philanthropy (including the Hilton Foundation) the private sector to mobilize resources and foster coordination at efforts to rid this painful and debilitating disease. GET2020 has adopted the SAFE strategy, a comprehensive set of measures (surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness, and environmental improvements) to treat and prevent trachoma.

“Mali and Niger present a special case within the global effort as they are the closest to this milestone of the trachoma-endemic countries,” said Shaheen Kassim-Lakha, director of International Programs at the Hilton Foundation. “If these two countries are able to reach this milestone, this provides compelling evidence for the possibility of global elimination.”

The ongoing success of meeting elimination targets in Mali and Niger is despite the two countries having higher baseline prevalence, less dense population, larger geographic area, and ranking lower on economic and human development indices than other countries that have achieved elimination targets since 1998.

Presently, the national trachoma elimination programs of both Mali and Niger have declared that they are on track to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem by 2018 and 2020 respectively. By leveraging existing investments and securing new partners, together we can achieve the goals of GET2020 and work toward eliminating trachoma globally by 2020.

For more detailed information on our Avoidable Blindness program area and additional grantmaking, please visit www.hiltonfoundation.org.

Related Priority

Avoidable Blindness

Preventing avoidable sight loss from cataract and blinding trachoma. Learn more ›

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