Scientists say they have invented the first cheap, simple and accurate test for trachoma, the eye disease that ravages parts of Africa.
Nearly six million people have been blinded by trachoma, caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis. Infection causes the eyelid to fold inward and make the lashes scrape across the cornea and damage it.
In research published online Friday by The Lancet, University of Cambridge scientists report they devised and successfully tested a dipstick test that in less than half an hour can say whether someone is infected with the germ. Once identified as having the infection, the patient can then be treated with the antibiotic azithromycin or referred to other forms of care.
Efforts to combat trachoma have been dogged by the lack of an easy-to-use and sensitive tool to diagnose an infection before it develops into clinical symptoms, and as a result previous resources have been wasted.
It estimates that 84 million people in 55 countries need treatment. But 90 percent of these cases occur in the developing world, where there is a lack of clean water and decent sanitation and a chronic scarcity of ophthalmologists to detect and treat the disease.