The World Health Organization (WHO) validates Malawi for the elimination of trachoma, the first country in southern Africa
The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that Malawi has eliminated trachoma, a bacterial eye infection that can cause irreversible blindness if left untreated, as a public health problem. Malawi becomes the first country in Southern Africa and the fifth in Africa to achieve this milestone.
“Malawi’s success story is changing the lives of millions of children who were at risk of contracting this devastating disease. Trachoma causes painful late complications resulting in visual impairment, a lifelong disability that causes significant emotional and economic hardship for families. With Malawi leading the way, I hope other endemic countries in Southern Africa will prioritize the fight against neglected diseases that cause untold suffering to vulnerable populations,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of WHO for Africa.
Malawi has been known to be endemic for trachoma since the 1980s. received due attention. In 2015, Malawi reported that 7.6 million people were at risk of trachoma infection.
As a result of the investigations and with the support of WHO and partners, Malawi stepped up its trachoma control efforts, establishing a national trachoma task force which implemented the SAFE strategy recommended by WHO to fight trachoma. This involved training a group of mid-level eye clinicians in surgery to treat the blinding stage of trachoma, rolling out mass antibiotic administration with donations from Pfizer, and running public awareness campaigns to promote cleanliness. face and personal hygiene. Stakeholders supported the improvement of water, sanitation and hygiene services at the district level. The country has received significant funding from the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.
WHO is supporting health authorities in Malawi to closely monitor communities where trachoma was previously endemic to ensure a rapid response to any resurgence of the disease.
Overall, Malawi joins 14 other countries that have been validated by the WHO to have eliminated trachoma as a public health problem. These are Cambodia, China, Islamic Republic of Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Gambia, Ghana, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Togo and Vanuatu.
Trachoma remains a public health problem in 42 countries with an estimated 125 million people living in areas endemic for the disease. Trachoma is mainly found in the poorest and most rural areas of Africa, Central and South America, Asia, the Western Pacific and the Middle East. Africa is disproportionately affected by trachoma with 111 million people living in at-risk areas, representing 89% of the global trachoma burden.
Significant progress has been made in recent years and the number of people requiring antibiotic treatment for trachoma in Africa has fallen by 38%, from 178 million in 2016 to 111 million in June 2022.
After Malawi’s success, trachoma remains endemic in 28 African countries.
Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness and is triggered by infection with the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. The infection is transmitted from person to person through contaminated fingers, fomites and flies that have come into contact with secretions from the eyes or nose of an infected person. Environmental risk factors for trachoma transmission include poor hygiene, overcrowded households, inadequate access to water, and inadequate access to or use of adequate sanitation facilities.
Trachoma is an endemic disease that primarily affects remote, underserved rural communities. The infection mainly affects children and becomes less common with age. Repeated infections in early childhood lead to late complications years or even decades later. Among adults, women are twice as likely as men to be affected by the blinding complications of trachoma, mainly due to their close contact with infected children.
Repeated infections in childhood lead to scarring on the inner side of the upper eyelids. In some people this leads to one or more eyelashes on the upper eyelids touching the eye, known as trachomatous trichiasis – a debilitating condition resulting in extreme pain with every blinking action of the eyelids. Trachomatous trichiasis can be managed surgically, but if left untreated can lead to corneal scarring leading to visual impairment and blindness. Trachoma can be eliminated using the WHO SAFE strategy.
In 1996, WHO launched the WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET2020). Together with other Alliance partners, WHO supports the implementation of the SAFE strategy in countries and the strengthening of national capacities through epidemiological assessment, monitoring, surveillance, project evaluation and mobilization of resources contributing to the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem. The Neglected Tropical Diseases Roadmap 2021-2030, endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 2020 through its decision 73(33), sets 2030 as the new target date for global elimination.
Distributed by APO Group for the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
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