For years, Micaela Santis Gomez would use a hair clip to pull out her eyelashes. That was the only way she could stop the tearing and pain they caused as a result of trachoma, an infectious disease that makes the eyelashes grow inward and touch the cornea, which can eventually lead to blindness.
Now, at age 92, Micaela can still see, she says, thanks to the Trachoma Brigades, a group of health professionals formed in 2004 by the Secretary of Health of the State of Chiapas, Mexico, to implement SAFE, the strategy recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to eliminate the disease.
"My husband died with chalam tzotz (trichiasis) because nobody ever cured him, and I would have died with it too if it weren’t for the brigade that helped me get the operation," she says in Tzeltal, her native language. Micaela is one of 320 people who benefited from eyelid surgery. Peeling an ear of corn, she notes that she feels no pain: "I am very grateful. Now I can enjoy my pozol."
Trachoma is one of the oldest contagious diseases known to humans. It is caused by bacteria that typically affect the poorest of the poor. It is transmitted by direct contact with ocular or nasal secretions of an infected person or with contaminated objects such as towels.
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