The antibiotic used to treat trachoma, "the world's leading preventable cause of blindness," may also protect children living in Ethiopia from death from of other diseases, according to a recent study, the Associated Press reports. In the study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers "compared [Ethiopian] villages where children received the antibiotic Zithromax to villages where treatment was delayed a year," only to discover, "[t]he antibiotic cut the death rate in half, and the researchers speculate it helped prevent deaths from pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria, the biggest killers of Ethiopian children," the news service writes.
Though "[t]he United States has been free of [trachoma] since the 1970s … it persists in 48 countries," including Ethiopia, where "40 percent of children under 10 show signs of active trachoma," the AP writes, adding that by 2020, the WHO hopes to have eliminated the disease. According to the news service, "[t]he trachoma program of the Carter Center, founded by former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter, implemented the treatment and hosted the research" (Johnson, 9/1).
"We've known for 20 years that we can easily prevent trachoma and the excruciating pain and blindness it causes. This study shows trachoma control goes far beyond blindness prevention—it also saves lives," former President Carter said in a written statement (9/1).
"In an area in which residents have very limited access to antibiotics, mass distribution of oral azithromycin appears to reduce mortality in preschool children," the study authors wrote in a press release. "Further assessment of the mechanism, generalizability, effects of drug resistance or other adverse outcomes, and cost-effectiveness of antibiotic administration in impoverished rural settings may be needed to provide further insight to guide public health policy" (9/1).