Ghana Eradicated Trachoma, a Disease That Left Millions Blind
On June 13, 2018 the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that trachoma, an infectious and painful disease of the eye that may potentially lead to blindness, is no longer a public health concern in Ghana.
Trachoma and Ghana
Ghana sits on West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea and is a home to 28 million people — 2.8 (or 15 percent) of which were at risk of trachoma in 2000. The WHO attributes the success to a collective effort between local and regional communities and international collaboration.
Trachoma is caused by Chlamydia bacterium and is spread by flies, a lack of sanitation and lack of access to clean water. When a person has the disease, the inside of the eyelids become scarred and curl inwards, causing the lashes to scrape against the lens of the eye, eventually destroying it if left untreated.
The disease was once common in the west, but has since been reduced to areas of the world where people do not have the resources to fend off the disease, usually attacking the world’s poor and leaving them unable to properly carry out their daily tasks.
Trachoma of the Past, Present and Future
Often described as a sensation of “thorns” in the eyes, trachoma is an extremely uncomfortable and serious disease. The disease is ancient, and dates as far back as the time of the pharaohs and ancient Greeks and Romans. Even prominent figures across ancient history such as St. Paul, Cicero, Horace and Galileo were believed to have suffered from the disease.
In 2000, the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service put in place a national Trachoma Elimination Program. This program involved putting the Surgery for Trichiasis, Antibiotics to Ward Off Infection (SAFE) strategy into action.
Surgery for trichiasis, the condition in which the eyelashes grow inward, was provided free of charge for more than 6,000 patients, and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer donated 3.3 million doses of Zithromax antibiotics to help avoid infection.
Pfizer also has plans to continue to donate Zithromax globally to help other trachoma-endemic countries. The importance of hygiene and facial cleanliness was promoted throughout the community during events, school health education and radio messages — while Ghana’s Community Water and Sanitation Agency worked towards environmental improvements.
Number Seven, Ghana
Ghana is the seventh country to have officially wiped out the disease, along with Oman, Morocco, Mexico, Cambodia, Laos and Nepal — and it is the only sub-saharan African country to have done so. In spite of this brilliant success, up to 200 million people are still at risk of contracting trachoma in 41 countries, many of which are on the African continent.
Experts are hopeful for the future eradication of the disease considering the ways in which Ghana eradicated trachoma. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed his optimism saying, “Although there’s more work to do elsewhere, the validation of elimination in Ghana allows another previously heavily-endemic country to celebrate significant success.”
– Camille Wilson