Malawi becomes first country in southern Africa to eliminate devastating eye disease
Malawi has become the first country in southern Africa and the fifth in Africa to totally eliminate trachoma as a public health problem.
The elimination has just been announced by the World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO Did it?
Seven years ago the disease was affecting 7.6 million people in the country.
Trachoma is a devastating condition which can turn eyelashes inwards so that they scrape painfully against the eyeball and if left untreated, this can cause permanent sight loss.
Efforts to eradicate the eye disease took 12 years of sustained action led by the Government of Malawi and the non-profit organization of Sightsavers.
The mission was funded through Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Trust.
Other African countries, that have so far managed to eradicate trachoma include Morocco, Ghana, The Gambia and Togo.
Trachoma is the second neglected tropical disease which Malawi has eliminated in recent years, after elephantiasis in 2020 due to the country’s comprehensive mass drug administration program.
“I am proud to lead Malawi’s celebration in defeating yet another neglected tropical disease. This success in eliminating trachoma – the world’s leading cause of infectious blindness – coming so soon after our country celebrated the elimination of elephantiasis in 2020, shows the fight against neglected tropical diseases can be won.”Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera – President of Malawi
Malawi could easily be the first country in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to achieve the feat.
Seeing is Believing
Trachoma is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide. It stops children going to school and adults from working, trapping people in poverty.
The disease affects largely rural and marginalized communities.
Infections spread through personal contacts, hands, clothes or bedding and by flies that have been in contact with discharge from the eyes or nose of an infected person.
Trachoma-related blindness is two to four times higher in women than in men.
“Africa is building momentum against trachoma! Over the last eight years, five countries have eliminated this preventable disease. In Malawi, years of tireless efforts have paid off. The painful suffering and the risk of permanent blindness from trachoma no longer threaten millions of children and their families.”Dr Matshidiso Moeti – WHO Regional Director for Africa
In the past 20 years, the number of people at risk of trachoma has dropped by 92 percent from around 1.5 billion people in 2002 to 125 million worldwide today, according to WHO.
However, the condition still affects people in more than 40 countries, the vast majority of whom are in Africa – leading to the visual impairment or permanent sight loss of nearly 2 million people per year.
“Eliminating a disease on this scale is a massive achievement for our country. Today, 7.6 million people are no longer at risk of losing their sight to trachoma thanks to hard work, commitment and collaboration between government, health workers, volunteers and organizations like Sightsavers.”Bright Chiwaula – Sightsavers’ Malawi Director.
Malawi’s Ministry of Health and its partners followed the WHO-endorsed SAFE strategy.
Sight Saving Mission
It combines surgery to stop eyelashes scraping the eye, antibiotics to prevent and treat infection, and facial cleanliness and environmental improvements to stop infection spreading.
Working with thousands of volunteers the country distributed 22.25 million donated drug treatments.
There were also training sessions for local surgeons to manage more than 6,000 advanced cases of trachoma.
More than 250 schools adopted improved hygiene and sanitation programs.
Malawi is also committed to fighting Neglected Tropical Diseases more broadly, as demonstrated by becoming one of the first endemic countries to endorse the Kigali Declaration on the same.
Trachoma is one of 20 Neglected Tropical Diseases identified by WHO.
The World Health Assembly sets 2030 as the target date for global trachoma elimination.
Malawi’s trachoma elimination plan was supported by the UK Department for International Development and The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.