Typical to the weather conditions of summer in this region, temperatures were soaring in the Egyptian village of Matay, in the north of Minya governorate in Upper Egypt.
Nevertheless, families gathered with their children, knowing the importance of the day and understanding that their eyes — and those of their beloveds — were at stake.
The village was brimming with energy, as more than 400 health workers worked with the Ministry of Health and district level bodies, as well as organisations such as Sightsavers and other NGOs, to prepare the community for the first mass drug administration (MDA) to treat trachoma.
There are 36 million blind people in the world. Some 75 percent of all blindness can be prevented or cured.
Trachoma, which is an infectious and painful disease, is the leading infectious cause of blindness, and it risks the eyes of over 1.7 million people in Egypt, according to a 2015 survey by Egypt's trachoma control programme.
Egyptian medical papyrus dating back to circa 1,500 BC and discovered in the late 1800s recorded the prevalence of trachoma in the region during its time of inscription. Research from the 1960s indicated continued prevalence in several governorates, trapping millions in vicious cycles of need and poverty because it hinders its victims from work and productivity.
Egypt's health ministry, in collaboration with private sector pharmaceutical company Pfizer and international organisations such as Sightsavers, started an initiative to distribute antibiotics to treat trachoma.
Sightsavers has been working for six decades in more than 30 developing countries to prevent blindness, restore sight and advocate for social inclusion and equal rights for people with disabilities
Other collaborators include the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Nourseen Foundation, KCCO and the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) Local governments and local NGOs played a vital role in distribution and facilitating the success of the treatment programme.
Doses of the antibiotic Zithromax were carefully delivered to nearly 300,000 people in Egypt, making it the first MDA of its kind in the country for trachoma, preventing children and adults from going needlessly blind.
Ophthalmologist Dr Khaled Amer examines a child during the drug administration to combat and treat trachoma
Matay, where 10 percent of children from one to 10-years-old have symptoms of the disease, was the ideal place to begin.
Over the course of seven days teams of health workers distributed doses of the antibiotic to 288,365 people aged six months and up.
The teams went house to house in 24 villages and three suburban areas, travelling across difficult terrain, to villages nestled into the base of mountains.
They also visited a Matay prison, where the director of health personally took a dose of the antibiotic in front of prisoners to encourage acceptance.
Dr Ahmed Mousa, chairman of Nourseen, which is on the frontline of delivering the programme, said this community engagement was key to the success of the programme as it meant people knew what to expect and why it was important.
Moussa added: “The community was very receptive to receiving the drugs and the distribution went smoothly.”
“If I lose my eyesight it’s best to put me aside and cover me up. I’m responsible for this family. If something were to happen to my eyesight that would be the end," said Mohammad, 62, a farmer who lives with his wife Sanaa in Kufoor, Matay.
Mohammad is still working and is responsible for his family. He wanted to take the medication that would help to protect his vision against blindness and allow him to continue to work.
Mohamed & wife reflect on eyesight and work
Sameera, who is 69 and lives in Etlat near Matay with all her 12 children living away near Cairo, is another trachoma patient who received help.
She was suffering from the early stages of trachoma, including painful watering of the eye which can lead to a great deal of pain and prevent people from being out in the sun and doing their daily tasks. Had her condition been left to deteriorate, her sight would have been at risk.
“The doctor says I have bumps in my eye. I’ve had a problem with my eyes for a long time. I never saw a doctor for my eyes before. But a doctor came today, and he saw the tears and the bumps. I took the medication," Sameera says.
Sameera describing experiencing eye care for the first time
Egypt has a successful track record in treating other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). It was the first country in the Eastern Mediterranean to eliminate the illness of elephantiasis and has made groundbreaking efforts in eliminating schistosomiasis (snail fever). It is hoped this experience will help eliminate trachoma as a public health problem.
According to the WHO, Oman became the first developing country WHO validated as having eliminated trachoma as a public health problem in 2012, followed by Morocco in 2016, then Mexico, Cambodia and Laos in 2017, and most recently Ghana, Iran and Nepal in 2018.
It is the hope that Egypt will find its place in the list soon and add trachoma to the diseases that have vanished from the country.