One thousand wells - Canada's Operation Eyesight aims to eradicate Trachoma from Kenya

    World Sight Day is October 11, 2007

    CALGARY, Oct. 9 /CNW/ - Operation Eyesight, a Canadian international
development agency, has launched a major development project in Africa which
aims to eradicate trachoma, one of the world's leading causes of blindness,
from Kenya by 2015. The project will involve the drilling and completion of
1000 deep water wells, mass distribution of antibiotics to about 8 million
people, construction of 20,000 latrines and the training of several thousand
Kenyan citizens in community hygiene, trichiasis surgery and well management.
    Initial work has begun with the drilling of two wells in the Narok
District of southern Kenya, which will serve as a model for the national
project. Narok, which is home to the Maasai people and has a population of
about 400,000, is one of the most trachomatous areas of Kenya.
    Trachoma is an especially painful disease which, left untreated, can lead
to complete blindness. The disease is rampant through many parts of the
country with up to 30 per cent of children age nine and under infected.
Children are most susceptible to trachoma and because women are their primary
care givers, women are three times more likely than men to suffer the
blinding, late stage of the disease.
    "We are finally taking the steps that will eliminate this disease," says
Dr. John Sironka, who leads the project in Narok. "For me and my people, the
Maasai, this project is a dream come true. All it took was for one small
organization to listen and say, 'we can do that.'"
    Operation Eyesight follows the World Health Organization's SAFE strategy
to treat and prevent trachoma. SAFE is a broad-based development strategy that
includes surgery to treat trichiasis, the late stage of the disease,
antibiotics to eliminate infection, face washing and hygiene training, and
environmental change including wells and latrines.
    "Access to clean water is by far and away the most important component of
the program," explains Chip Morgan, Operation Eyesight's vice president of new
ventures and project development. "It will have a huge impact on the overall
health and well-being of Kenyan communities and in fact it is the component
they identified as their own first priority."
    "The real beauty of SAFE is that, while eliminating trachoma, it brings
other very significant benefits along with it," says Morgan, "including
reductions in infant mortality, malaria, upper respiratory tract infections,
diarrheal diseases, skin diseases and mal-nutrition. Villages with a safe
source of drinking water also have a better chance of attracting a qualified
school teacher and typically see huge improvements in numeracy and literacy
levels. For women, having a well nearby eliminates the need to walk many
kilometres each day in search of water, saving time and energy for other tasks
such as growing nutritious crops."
    Operation Eyesight is working in partnership with the Kenyan Government
and the project will also have the support of about 20 other organizations.
The U.S.-based Carter Center will collaborate with Operation Eyesight to
conduct formal research, monitoring and measuring the collateral benefits of
the SAFE strategy. Both organizations, along with the World Health
Organization (WHO) and other NGOs are members of GET2020 a global initiative
to eradicate trachoma from the entire world by 2020.

    Operation Eyesight is the original Canadian response to global blindness.
Since 1963, our programs have restored sight to more than two million people
and treated 33 million more for a variety of potentially blinding conditions.
We work in partnership with communities and local health care professionals in
the developing world to help them provide the best service for the world's
poorest people on a sustainable basis. Visit

    World Sight Day (WSD) is held annually on the second Thursday of October
to focus attention on the global issue of avoidable blindness. Every five
seconds, one person in our world goes blind and a child goes blind every
minute. Over 75 per cent of blindness in the developing world is treatable or
avoidable if adequate services and resources are available. WSD is coordinated
by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) as part of
VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, a joint initiative of IAPB and WHO. This
year's theme is Vision for Children. Visit for more information.

    Trachoma is a disease of the eye caused by bacterial infection and is
easily spread. Children are most susceptible. Those afflicted by trachoma do
not go blind instantly. The disease progresses gradually until scarring from
repeat or prolonged infection causes the eyelashes to turn inward and scratch
the cornea, leading slowly and painfully to complete blindness. The WHO
estimates that eight million people are visually impaired as a result of
trachoma and 84 million suffer from active infection.

    /NOTE TO PHOTO EDITORS: A photo accompanying this release is available on
    the CNW Photo Network and archived at
    Additional archived images are also available on the CNW Photo Archive
    website at Images are free to accredited
    members of the media/

For further information:

For further information: Lynn Leduc, Media Liaison, Operation Eyesight,
(403) 818-4853,

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