The first global health job I ever had a job at the International Trachoma Initiative conducting a comparison of trachoma control with other mass drug administration (MDA) based disease control programs (e.g. onchocerciasis, lymphatic filiariasis). This work led to some later work trying to figure out how to best integrate multiple MDA programs.

Through this work I discovered that while many communities were apprehensive about accepting some of the medicines that were administered (due to side effects), almost all of the communities were thrilled to get Zithromax – or azythromyacin – the drug donated by Pfizer for trachoma control. They could not get enough of it. People would report that after the distributions all kinds of infections and ailments would disappear.

Well, as it turns out, these people were on to something…something big it seems. A ground breaking study by the Carter Center was just released in JAMA yesterday which reports that not only did the administration of azithromyacin reduce the burden of trachoma it also had a large and significant effect on childhood mortality. Among children ages 1-9, the mortality rate was essentially halved. The thinking is that the administration of a powerful broad spectrum antibiotic like azithromyacin reduced the incidence and severity of diarrhea and pneumonia, two large contributors to child mortality.

It is great when the unintended consequences of a global health initiative turn out to be really good ones for a change. I am sure that this finding will give a big boost to trachoma control programs, which they surely can use. It seems the mantra of the neglected tropical disease control community was correct after all, addressing the NTDs will have benefits far beyond the elimination of just these diseases.

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1 Response » to “Unintended consequences of trachoma control…good ones for a change”

  1. Simon says:

    This is a fascinating phenomenon. I tried to access the article but it seems to require a password. Do you have a link to the abstract?

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