Ghana has become the first sub-Saharan African country to eliminate trachoma. Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced this milestone and congratulated Ghana in a statement released last Wednesday
Ghana joins only five other countries to have eliminated trachoma; Nepal, Oman, Morocco, Cambodia, and Laos.
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“It’s been 20 years since the global health community committed to eliminating trachoma worldwide. Although there’s more work to do elsewhere, the validation of elimination in Ghana allows another previously heavily-endemic country to celebrate significant success,” WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
The Health Minister, Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, also noted that “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.”
“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,” he added.
Trachoma: Ghana’s story
Trachoma was identified in the 1950s as the most important cause of blindness in Ghana. By the 1990s, the disease was known to persist as a significant public health problem in the Northern and Upper West Regions.
There were about 2.8 million people at risk of trachomatous blindness nationally, with an estimated 13 000 people suffering from trichiasis. In 2000, the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service set up a national Trachoma Elimination Programme.
Ghana’s Trachoma Elimination Programme implemented the WHO-recommended elimination strategy, SAFE, which comprises Surgery for trichiasis, Antibiotics to clear infection, Facial cleanliness, and Environmental improvement to reduce transmission.
Trichiasis surgery was provided at no cost, a critical Ghana Health Service decision reflecting the socioeconomic disadvantage of people with trichiasis and the impact of the condition on future earning potential.
Azithromycin, donated by Pfizer through the International Trachoma Initiative, was distributed with support from FHI 360 (using funds from the United States Agency for International Development), The Carter Center, Sightsavers and other organizations.
Facial cleanliness was promoted through community events, dramas, the school health education programme, radio messages and radio clubs. Environmental improvement was coordinated by Ghana’s Community Water and Sanitation Agency.
WHO estimates that 200 million people in 42 countries, mostly in Africa, are currently at risk of trachoma.