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2M Tanzania Kids To Get Antibiotic

August 23, 1999

DAR-ES-SALAAM, Tanzania (AP)_ Some two million Tanzanian children at risk of losing their sight will receive a donated oral antibiotic that has proved effective against trachoma, the Minister of Health said Monday.

Through the International Trachoma Initiative and Pfizer, Inc., an international pharmaceutical company, Tanzania will receive 1.4 million doses of the long-acting antibiotic, Zithromax, for distribution over an 18-month period to people living in the trachoma-endemic regions of the East African nation.

Trachoma is a bacterial infection of the upper eyelid. Repeated infections result in trichiasis, the in-turning of the eye lashes so they scratch the cornea. If not corrected by surgery, trichiasis results in blindness.

``The control of trachoma will particularly benefit the most vulnerable segment of our population _ women and children. In some of our communities, six out of 10 children have the disease,″ said Aaron Chiduo.

The initial shipment of 300,000 doses donated by Pfizer was presented to the ministry Monday.

``The unholy alliance of poverty and ignorance is responsible for blinding trachoma, a scourge that is easily preventable by regular face wash and general personal hygene,″ said Dr. Peter Kilima, ITI representative in Tanzania.

The ITI initiative was established through a public-private patnership between the New York City-based Edna McConnell Foundation and Pfizer.

The full Pfizer donation, valued at $20 million, will be distributed free of charge to patients, according to Dr. Kilima.

ITI will provide an additional $1.4 million in funding over two years to organize the full trachoma program in patnership with the ministry and seven non-governmental organisations.

Pfizer spokeswoman Paula Luff said the Zithromax donation is the firm’s largest and most significant international philanthropic venture.

The World Health Organisation estimates that trachoma infects more than 150 million people worldwide; six million people have been blinded or are at immediate risk of becoming blind by the disease.

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