Prominent arts figures front new Sightsavers film about trachoma

Actors, poets and authors with African heritage are lending their support to the campaign

Sightsavers trachoma
The Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Trust/Julia Gunther

Prominent figures from the arts world are fronting a new Sightsavers campaign, which hopes to raise awareness of trachoma.

The two-minute film features actor and producer, Andrea Chika Chukwu-Ahern; editor and publisher, Ellah P Wakatama OBE; poet, author and hip-hop artist, Karl Nova; actor and Merlin star, ‘Tomiwa Edun, and playwright, filmmaker and poet, Zodwa Nyoni.

The film, which launched on 7 December, focuses on the first-hand experiences of people from several African countries where trachoma is still a public health problem.

It sees the volunteers, all of whom have African heritage and personal connections to countries and communities affected by the condition, reading the words of those affected by the disease via Zoom.

They include Aisha, a farmer in Tanzania (pictured); Issa, a labourer and farmer, also in Tanzania; Suno, a local king from the Nikki region of Benin; Aboubakar, a 12-year old boy in Cameroon; Ugandan mother Anna, and Orou, a former traditional dancer in Benin.

The film was created as part of Sightsavers’ The End is in Sight campaign, which aims to eliminate the disease by 2025.

Although over 137 million people are at risk of trachoma, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, a 2020 survey of over 2000 adults by Sightsavers suggests that the disease is unknown to 84% of people in Britain.

Trachoma is preventable and treatable through antibiotics, good hygiene and surgery. Since 2010 it has been eliminated as a public health problem in Cambodia, China, Iran, Laos, Ghana, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal and Oman.

In November, the World Health Organization and global leaders endorsed new prevention and elimination targets for neglected tropical diseases, including trachoma, by 2030.

Sightsavers’ global marketing manager, Katherine Cross said: “The aim of the film is to use the power of real words to understand how it feels to live with trachoma. We want to raise awareness of this devastating disease through the personal experiences of those living with it. Our ambassadors all understand the power words have to bring experience to life.

“This is a disease we eliminated in the UK more than 60 years ago - and now it’s possible to do so everywhere.”

Actor and star of Merlin, ‘Tomiwa Edun, said: “Trachoma is something that I’ve seen growing up in Nigeria and in Ghana. Because the quotes come from the mouths of people who are living with it, they give you a perspective that is not about the disease as an abstract idea, but about what it means for their lived lives: trying to get an education, remaining integrated in their communities; their livelihoods. What a horrible thing to have to watch someone you love in constant pain, all for the sake of something that is so easily treatable.”

Trachoma in Words

Prominent arts figures read the words of those affected by trachoma


Editor-at-large for Cannongate Books, Ellah P Wakatama, who was born in Zimbabwe, said: “Reading through these quotations is very difficult because you are voicing the lived truth of people all around the world who are living with this affliction. What the campaign is doing is acknowledging their agency, acknowledging their voice and amplifying it and, to me, that’s really important.”

To find out how you can get involved or to donate to the Trachoma in Words appeal, visit www.sightsavers.org/words