Ghana, WHO to confirm elimination of trachoma

Author: Rosemary Ardayfio
 Dr John Amuasi, Executive Director, African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases
Dr John Amuasi, Executive Director, African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases

Ghana is working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to confirm that it has eliminated trachoma as a public health problem, which would make it the sixth country to officially reach elimination.

Trachoma is caused by a contagious bacterial infection of the eye. It can cause scarring of the inner eyelid and in some cases, irreversible blindness.

This was contained in the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) annual scorecard on disease progress  released yesterday,  January 28, 2017, at the 30th African Union Heads of State Summit, currently ongoing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Scorecard

For the first time, the scorecard revealed countries’ progress on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and in Ghana, the scorecard shows major progress.

Ghana is also ranked sixth out of 47 countries in reaching people in need of mass NTD treatment.

The country has further kept steady, high preventive therapy coverage rates for lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis in past years.

In 2016, its coverage rate for lymphatic filariasis was 74 per cent, while for onchocerciasis it was 85 per cent, the fourth-highest rate of coverage in Africa, according to the scorecard.

The scorecard is personally reviewed by African heads of state every year, putting NTDs alongside malaria and maternal and child health as top health priorities for the continent. By adding NTDs to the scorecard, African leaders are making a public commitment to hold themselves accountable for progress on these diseases.

Developed by the World Health Organisation in collaboration with Uniting to Combat NTDs, this index reports progress for the 47 NTD-affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa in their strategies to treat and prevent the five most common NTDs, which are, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminths and trachoma.

More to do

According to the scorecard, although the data points to progress, there are  areas of concern as nearly two-thirds of countries have a NTD coverage index of less than 50 per cent, suggesting that there is still much more to do.

”Improving the health, education and productivity of our poorest citizens by eliminating NTDs can put Africa on the path to prosperity and universal health coverage,” said Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn. “ I urge my fellow African leaders to build on the progress already made and increase their efforts to tackle NTDs to make them a subject for much concerted effort and action at the African Union.”

“When it comes to diseases that affect the very poorest and most marginalised communities, it is up to political leaders to make them a priority,” said Thoko Elphick-Pooley, Director, Uniting to Combat NTDs Support Centre.

She said beating NTDs is essential for Africa’s economic development, and “we are thrilled that African Heads of State will be reviewing their progress every year and holding themselves accountable for equitable health outcomes.”

Burden on poor

“Malaria and NTDs both lay their heaviest burden on the poor, rural and marginalised. They also share solutions, from vector control to community-based treatment,” said Joy Phumaphi, Executive Secretary, ALMA. “Adding NTDs to our scorecard will help give leaders the information they need to end the cycle of poverty and reach everyone, everywhere with needed health care,” she asserted.