Three of every four cases of blindness can be treated or prevented, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The key is to make treatments available to everyone who needs them, and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is pouring resources into achieving that goal.
Organizations that are researching blindness treatments or working in underserved communities to build the health-care infrastructure needed to make treatments accessible to all will find an interested collaborator in Hilton. The foundation has been working for quite a few years now with the WHO on the blindness issue. The primary focus is treating trachoma, an infectious eye disease that is one of the leading causes of blindness in developing countries.
The two organizations have been pooling funds and personnel to carry out a WHO-formulated "SAFE strategy"— Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness, and Environmental improvement— aimed at reducing trachoma infections in Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Southern Sudan, Tanzania, and Vietnam. As a part of this effort, Hilton funded the WHO's development of a new curriculum on methods of treating and preventing trachoma; this curriculum is now widespread in numerous medical schools in trachoma-heavy areas of the world.
The Hilton Foundation has also been handing out sizable blindness-related grants to a slew of other nongovernmental organizations. More than $40 million in Hilton funding has gone to anti-trachoma efforts alone, including a cumulative $15.26 million to the Carter Center and Hellen Keller International for their joint program in Mali, Niger, Southern Sudan, and Tanzania to eliminate trachoma by distributing antibiotics, fostering eye health education, and improving sanitation.
And what about the remaining one-fourth of blindness sufferers whose conditions can't be treated or prevented? The foundation supports a wide swath of institutions and organizations that work with youth or adults with blindness. These organizations include the Perkins School for the Blind, which is based in Watertown, Massachusetts, but runs education programs for children living with blindness and other disabilities across the globe; the American Foundation for the Blind; and the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments.
There's no telling what new treatments for blindness might emerge in years to come, but right now, large numbers of people will continue to live with blindness. On the bright side, they— and the nonprofits that administer to them— will have a steady supporter in the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.