Elimination of Trachoma in Cambodia and Lao PDR

Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) recently eliminated trachoma as a public threat. Through the creation of the Alliance for Global Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020 (GET2020) by the World Health Organization (WHO), these countries were able to improve their strategies for diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Trachoma is a disease that affects the eye and is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Trachoma spreads through physical contact via discharge of the nose or eyes of an infected individual. Progression or repeated infection of this disease can lead to permanent damage to the cornea and blindness.

Trachoma is a disease that is closely linked to poor hygiene and sanitation conditions. Other environmental factors that contribute to the spread of trachoma include water shortages and crowded living spaces. As of now, trachoma affects 41 countries in the poorest parts of the world.

Through GET2020, the WHO and other organizations use the SAFE strategy to ensure the elimination of trachoma. According to the WHO, the SAFE strategy includes “surgery for trichiasis, antibiotics to treat active infection, facial cleanliness and environmental improvements to limit transmission.”

Since 2000, Cambodia and Lao PDR have worked to implement better treatment for trachoma, as well as increase health education to prevent the spread of trachoma. Furthermore, over the past decade, socioeconomic conditions have improved and the birth rate has decreased. All these efforts have led to better conditions to avoid the spread of trachoma.

The elimination of trachoma as a public health threat does not necessarily mean that the disease is eradicated from the countries. It does, however, show a significant improvement in the standard of living and health conditions in both of these countries.

In order for the WHO to consider trachoma to be eliminated as a public health threat, certain numbers must be seen across the board. According to the WHO website, “less than 5 percent of children aged 1-9 [should] have signs of active trachoma, less than 0.2 percent of people over 15 years have a more advanced form of the disease…and their health systems can identify and manage new cases[.]”

While only three of the 41 affected countries have eliminated trachoma as a public health threat, Cambodia and Lao PDR have paved a path for other countries to follow suit. Through the help of the WHO and other affiliated organizations, the elimination of trachoma as a public health threat can continue.

Rebekah Covey

Photo: Flickr