Twenty years after the World Health Assembly committed to tackling trachoma, Ghana has become the first country in the World Health Organization (WHO)’s African Region to successfully eliminate it as a public health problem, the WHO announced Wednesday.
Trachoma is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) that is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. It starts off as a bacterial infection, and if not treated quickly enough, it can line the inside of the eyelid with rough scars and force the eyelashes to turn inward.
This NTD is responsible for the blindness or visual impairment of about 1.9 million people around the world, according to the WHO.
"It’s been 20 years since the global health community committed to eliminating trachoma worldwide," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. "Although there’s more work to do elsewhere, the validation of elimination in Ghana allows another previously heavily-endemic country to celebrate significant success."
In the 1990s, there were approximately 2.8 million people at risk of trachomatous blindness in Ghana. An estimated 13,000 people were suffering from trichiasis, the condition where eyelashes begin to grow inwards.
The Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service launched the national Trachoma Elimination Programme in 2000, which applied an elimination strategy called SAFE: surgery for trichiasis, antibiotics to clear infection, facial cleanliness, and environmental improvement to reduce transmission, according to the WHO.
It's a great day for #Ghana. The country has eliminated #trachoma, the leading infectious cause of blindness. This is a milestone worth celebrating. Many leaders, health workers, activists & partners made it possible. Congratulations President @NAkufoAddohttps://t.co/cQnfgpMIp1— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) June 13, 2018
Trichiasis surgery was provided for free, pharmaceutical company Pfizer donated the antibiotic Azithromycin, and it was distributed thanks to organizations like FHI 360, The Carter Center, and Sightsavers. Facial cleanliness was promoted throughout communities and environmental improvement was supported by Ghana’s Community Water and Sanitation Agency, according to the WHO.
"This success is a result of a tremendous amount of hard work by thousands of health, education and development workers to improve the lives of individuals with trachoma and their families," Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, Ghana’s minister of health, said. "The Government of Ghana is enormously grateful to its staff and to the many partners that have joined forces with us to eliminate trachoma and the cycle of poverty it triggers."
There are 149 countries and territories worldwide that are affected by at least one NTD — and 100% of low-income countries are affected by at least five at a time. NTDs include sicknesses like trachoma, leprosy, onchocerciasis (river blindness), soil-transmitted helminthiases, and many more.
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