Vanuatu has become the first country in the Pacific to successfully eliminate trachoma as a public health problem.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the attainment on Aug. 12, attributing the success to the “strong commitment” and unified efforts of health workers, communities, and governments.
Trachoma, a neglected tropical disease, is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. If the initial bacterial infection is not treated fast enough, the eyelids turn inward, forcing the eyelashes to painfully lacerate, and eventually cloud, the clear covering of the eye.
Vanuatu’s Minister for Health Bruno Leingkone said the country’s work to eliminate the disease — through mass drug administration, surgical outreach, health education, and environmental risk mitigation — has already saved hundreds of people from lifelong blindness.
He added that those born in marginalized and hard-to-reach places will reap the benefits for years to come.
"This is a proud moment for Vanuatu,” Leingkone said in a statement.
Congratulations to Vanuatu 🇻🇺 on eliminating trachoma! 👏#Vanuatu has become the most recent country in the world & the 1st #Pacific island country to eliminate the neglected tropical disease that is responsible for causing blindness or visual impairment in about 1.9M people 🌏 pic.twitter.com/9OEQxuSLjj— World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific (@WHOWPRO) August 12, 2022
It's been almost three decades since the WHO adopted its official global strategy for halting trachoma and just over 25 years since the organization launched an alliance to eliminate the disease by 2020. An updated WHO road map now aims to see trachoma, and 20 other neglected tropical diseases, eliminated and eradicated worldwide by 2030.
Trachoma remains a public health concern in 44 countries.
It is responsible for the blindness or visual impairment of about 1.9 million people and, until 2014, was found in 12% of all children aged between 1 and 9 years in Vanuatu.
While young children are typically able to recover from a single episode of the infection, the body becomes less and less likely to clear the bacteria during each re-acquisition. In areas with inadequate hygiene, crowded households, and limited access to water, reinfection is common.
Vanuatu now joins its Asian neighbors Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, and Nepal in WHO-validated elimination status.
As of March 2022, a further 10 countries have reported achieving elimination goals, including China, Gambia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Mexico, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Togo. Australia remains the only developed country to have endemic levels of trachoma.