The Gambia has successfully eliminated trachoma as a public health problem, she’s the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate the disease.
Trachoma is a painful debilitating disease and the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness.
It is a neglected tropical eye disease that mainly affects children, with infection less common with increasing age. In adults, women are up to four times more likely than men to be affected by the late complications of trachoma mainly due to their close contact with infected children.
TheFact Nigeria gathered that a 2018–2019 survey on trachoma trichiasis (an advanced stage) in The Gambia found that the prevalence of the disease among people aged 15 and above ranged from 0% to 0.02%, beating the threshold required for the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem.
This a huge achievement when compared with the mid-80s when a national survey estimated that the disease was responsible for almost one in five cases of blindness countrywide.
The Gambia’s success in eliminating trachoma was largely attributed to strong collaboration with partner organisations to implement the WHO-developed SAFE strategy, which entails surgery for trichiasis (in-turned eyelashes), antibiotics to clear infection, facial cleanliness and environmental improvement (particularly increased access to water and sanitation) to decrease transmission.
It was also attributed to the country’s community volunteers who played a crucial role in mobilising communities and promoting behaviour change.
“This is a remarkable achievement that has saved many children, mothers and families from preventable visual impairment or blindness and improved their quality of life and well-being,
“It is also a clear sign that we can achieve significant milestones through dedicated efforts in tackling health challenges in the region,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Globally, trachoma is a public health problem in 45 countries with an estimated 137 million people living in trachoma-endemic areas. Of the 45 endemic countries for trachoma worldwide, 29 are on the African continent.
Significant progress has been made in the African region in the control of trachoma over the last couple of years. The number of people that required treatment with antibiotics for trachoma in the region fell by 72 million from 189 million in 2014 to 117 million in 2020.
Despite The Gambia’s achievement, non-formal schools, especially those located in previously trachoma-endemic areas, remain a concern due to poor living conditions such as overcrowding and inadequate sanitary facilities, water supply and basic hygiene.
The schools pose a challenge to sustaining the achievement as pupils come from both within and outside the country, increasing the risk of transmission across geographical locations.
The World Health Organisation and the Gambian government have promised to closely monitor these schools and the communities to ensure there is a rapid, proportionate response to any resurgence of the disease.
“I congratulate the Gambian health workers for the hard work that resulted in the elimination of trachoma as a public health threat in The Gambia. The work does not stop here. We still count on your continued effort to monitor the trend and provision of the needed care to sustain the great gains. Please keep up the excellent work,” said Dr. Desta Alamerew Tiruneh, WHO Representative in The Gambia.