Helen Keller International Trachoma Initiative

Confronting sight loss

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation works to prevent blindness and empower those facing the challenges of visual impairment.

Eliminating trachoma

Trachoma is a major cause of preventable blindness. This infectious eye disease typically affects people in impoverished communities lacking adequate access to clean water, sanitation, hygiene and healthcare. If left untreated, trachoma leads to total blindness.

The World Health Organization recommends the SAFE strategy—encompassing Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvement—for preventing trachoma.

Since 1995, Hilton Foundation funding has helped make it possible to implement various aspects of the SAFE strategy for preventing trachoma in Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Southern Sudan, Tanzania and Vietnam. Our funds have also supported the World Health Organization's development of a trachoma curriculum to encourage the teaching of health and hygiene behaviors to prevent trachoma. This curriculum is now integrated into the health education programs of numerous schools in trachoma-endemic regions of the world.

Cumulatively, the Foundation has provided more than $40 million toward reducing the spread of trachoma, including ongoing grants totaling $15.26 million to the Carter Center and Helen Keller International. Focused on Mali, Niger, Southern Sudan and Tanzania, this program is building national capacity to eliminate trachoma, providing surgical correction of trichiasis (the advanced, blinding stage of trachoma), distributing antibiotics, and facilitating eye health education and environmental sanitation improvement. Now in its third year, the Carter Center - HKI partnership has already surpassed its ambitious 5-year output targets for antibiotic distribution and latrines, and is close to achieving its targets for surgeries and eye health education.

The Hilton Foundation is supporting the Community Eye Health Journal, which is published four times per year by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The Journal is distributed to 23,000 rural eye health staff working on the front line to combat trachoma and other causes of preventable blindness. Its content is aimed at improving their technical knowledge regarding eye care best practices and providing them with access to the latest advances in this field.

The Hilton Foundation is also funding the Kilimanjaro Center for Community Ophthalmology to conduct a two-year research and implementation project aimed at improving the quality, delivery and outcomes of surgery for trichiasis. The research findings will be shared with the World Health Organization Global Alliance for the Elimination of Blinding Trachoma and further disseminated through the Community Eye Health Journal, enabling all endemic countries to benefit.


Enhancing the lives of blind children with multiple disabilities

Over the last two decades, the Hilton Foundation has provided more than $65 million in support to the Perkins School for the Blind, a world leader in education for children with deafblindness and visual impairment with multiple disabilities. This collaboration with Perkins represents one of the largest commitments in Hilton Foundation history, and includes a 1989 grant of $15 million to establish the Hilton-Perkins program (later renamed Perkins International.)

Our long-term investment enabled Perkins to extend its considerable expertise to the developing world, where children with disabilities are sometimes kept hidden at home. Perkins International seeks to enhance the lives of those affected by visual impairment by improving the quality of education, training professionals and leaders in the field, empowering parents to advocate for additional resources, and working with governments on policy, legislation, and services.

Perkins International has provided materials, training, professional development, and technical assistance to teachers and parents. It has promoted university-level special education programs, as well as Braille literacy, including support of the distribution of Perkins Braillers (Braille typewriters). Through partner organizations, the program has also delivered direct services to children and their families and has advocated for financial resources and policy change supportive of people in the deafblind and multiply disabled community.


When the program began, only nine countries had any kind of program for children who were deafblind or visually impaired with multiple disabilities, with fewer than 250 children having access to these services. Today, Perkins International works with over 500 schools and programs in 65 countries to strengthen their capacity to provide quality educational services for 20,000 children and support for 4,000 of their family members each year. Since inception, Perkins International has touched the lives of more than 225,000 children, parents, teachers and university students around the globe.

Perkins International has been successful in creating lasting change by helping local partners to establish and run innovative, sustainable programs to suit their unique social, cultural, and political contexts. A comprehensive approach brings together schools, parent organizations, universities, government representatives and international agencies in pioneering alliances to transform educational services and disability policies.

The program has educated 200 international leaders in its Boston-based Educational Leadership Program, and 10,000 teachers and administrators receive training on an annual basis. These combined efforts help to influence policy for special education in many countries and at the global level. Perkins International is recognized worldwide for its positive and sustainable impact.

Other projects

The Hilton Foundation has supported the programs of many other organizations working to improve the lives of the visually impaired and of the visually impaired who also face multiple disabilities. These projects have involved the American Foundation for the Blind, The Junior Blind of America, The National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI), the National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service at the Olmsted Center for Sight, and Therapeutic Living Centers for the Blind (TLC), and The Chicago Lighthouse.