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Helen Keller Worldwide Receives $5 Million Grant from Bill and Melinda Gates

Support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to combat trachoma, the world's leading causeof preventable blindness currently affecting more than 117 million women and children

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Pamela Moore
Phone: 212.766.5266, ext. 891

NEW YORK -- Helen Keller Worldwide today announced a $5 million gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to strengthen efforts to combat trachoma, the world's leading cause of preventable blindness for women and children in the developing world. The grant will allow Helen Keller Worldwide to inaugurate a groundbreaking project to strengthen and expand community education and training activities dedicated to further the fight against the disease.

"Our fundamental mission is to follow Helen Keller's call to action to ensure a world free of blindness. For more than a decade we have been a leader in the effort to combat trachoma, which threatens the sight of 10 percent of the world's population," said John Palmer, president of Helen Keller Worldwide. "It is particularly fitting that we focus on training and education, since Anne Sullivan, Miss Keller's beloved teacher, had suffered from trachoma. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has quickly established itself as a leader in addressing critical global health issues, and we are grateful for their generous support."

The project will focus on three areas: school-based trachoma education; technology upgrades for health education; and improved quality of training materials for trachoma services. It will be carried out in nine African and Asian nations where Helen Keller Worldwide's trachoma-control activities currently take place – Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Mali, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Tanzania and Vietnam. It will also link the health and education sectors of each community. Local educators, health care workers and school children will be targeted as the conduits for change.

"Helping to put an end to the immediate suffering caused by trachoma is of great importance to Bill and Melinda," said William H. Gates, Sr., co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "The Foundation is proud to support Helen Keller Worldwide's efforts to break the cycle of infection that allows this disease to put the sight of millions in peril."

Almost six million people are already blind or at high risk of blindness due to this disease. An estimated 150 million more people have the active disease and require immediate treatment. Seventy-five percent of trachoma's victims are women and children. Trachoma usually begins in childhood, in communities where people live in overcrowded conditions and have limited access to basic sanitation, water and health care. The disease manifests itself as a chronic conjunctivitis affecting the upper eyelid. As it progresses, it turns inward and abrades the surface of the eye. If not corrected, corneal abrasion leads to opacity and blindness.

"Thanks to the generosity and commitment of Bill and Melinda Gates to the health of women and children, Helen Keller Worldwide can now begin a program of community education and training that will have a long-lasting impact on the spread of trachoma," said Palmer. "Through the SAFE strategy – four components consisting of surgery for trichiasis, antibiotic treatment of active disease, improved hygiene through face washing, and environmental improvements which prevent the spread of the disease – and simple, low-cost technologies, this program can be effectively integrated into existing health and education programs."

Founded in 1915 with the help of Helen Keller, Helen Keller Worldwide is the oldest and the leading U.S. nonprofit organization devoted to fighting preventable blindness worldwide. In 30 countries throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas, the agency provides the expertise, training and technical assistance to establish blindness prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs within existing health care systems. Helen Keller Worldwide's current programs combat cataract, trachoma, nutritional blindness and onchoceriasis (river blindness). Through ChildSight(R), Helen Keller Worldwide also improves the vision and educational performance of junior high school students living in urban and rural poverty. Since its inception, the agency has supported programs in more than 80 countries worldwide.

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