By Alexa Kaczka
As the fight against blindness around the world continues, a breakthrough has been made by experts in the US, which could halve the cost of treating eye problems.
According to research carried out by experts at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), a popular treatment for a potentially blinding eye infection is just as effective if given once a year rather than every six months.
The randomised study on trachoma, which is the leading cause of infection-caused blindness in the world, could lead to double the number of patients using the same amount of medication.
Dr Bruce Gaynor, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Francis Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology, said: "The idea is we can do more with less. We are trying to get as much out of the medicine as we can because of the cost and the repercussions of mass treatments."
In the study, published in The Lancet, researchers used an antibiotic called azithromycin to treat trachoma in Ethiopia, which has among the highest prevalence in the world, choosing 24 communities and randomising the two treatment options.
Twelve villages were given azithromycin every six months and the other 12 were treated every 12 months, with the experts finding that the prevalence of trachoma is "very high" at baseline.
Overall, 40 to 50 per cent of the children in these communities have the condition and these are the most susceptible, as it can quickly spread from person to person by direct or even indirect contact.
"We found that from as high as 40 per cent, the prevalence of trachoma went way down, even eliminated in some villages regardless of whether it was treated in an annual way or a biannual way. You can genuinely get same with less," he added.
The finding is significant because of how easily the disease spreads and gives hope to Africa, Asia, the Middle East and parts of Latin America and Australia, where trachoma is still a major problem, the researchers claim.
"We will now be able to reach more people and make the treatment go twice as far as before. This will make a huge impact in slowing down trachoma-related blindness globally," Dr Gaynor added.
by Martin Burns