Eye disease blinds 53,000 despite bid to weed it out

The government had planned to end trachoma by January

In Summary

• The disease is endemic in West Pokot, Turkana, Baringo, Kajiado and Narok counties

• Kenya is distributing drugs to fight it in the five counties where it has ravaged people

Narok County eye care coordinator Lekuye Rostan gives trachoma medicine to residents at Oloposimorum village, Narok West near the Kenya- Tanzania border on Tuesday, July 12, 2022.
NEGLECTED TROPICAL DISEASES: Narok County eye care coordinator Lekuye Rostan gives trachoma medicine to residents at Oloposimorum village, Narok West near the Kenya- Tanzania border on Tuesday, July 12, 2022.
Image: FILE

Kenya appears to have missed its goal to end trachoma, an eye disease that blinds thousands of people every year, by the beginning of this year.

The disease is endemic in Trachoma is endemic West Pokot, Turkana, Baringo, Kajiado and Narok counties, where it has caused 53,000 cases of blindness so far.

Although Kenya has made strides to eliminate the disease as a public health problem, it missed the World Health Organisation validation announced this week.

WHO only validated Benin and Mali as having eliminated trachoma as a public health problem, making them the fifth and sixth countries in WHO’s African Region to achieve this milestone.

Countries that previously received WHO validation for trachoma elimination are Ghana (June 2018), Gambia (April 2021), Togo (May 2022) and Malawi (September 2022).

“WHO congratulates the health authorities of Benin and Mali and their network of global and local partners for these milestones,” said WHO director general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said.

“Following Benin’s and Mali’s success, trachoma remains endemic in 23 countries in WHO’s African Region, bringing us a step closer towards the elimination target for trachoma set in the road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021-30.”

Globally, Benin and Mali join 15 other countries that have been validated by WHO for having eliminated trachoma as a public health problem.

These are Cambodia, China, the Gambia, Ghana, Islamic Republic of Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malawi, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Togo and Vanuatu.

In Kenya, Trachoma is endemic in five regions of West Pokot, Turkana, Baringo, Kajiado and Narok counties.

More than 53,200 Kenyans have already been blinded by trachoma, but due to consistent implementation of Mass Drug Administration (MDA) in the country, the situation has recorded remarkable gains.

Trachoma is listed by the WHO as one of the 20 Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and is the leading infectious cause of blindness across the globe.

Last year, Kenya and Tanzania carried out a joint cross-border mass drug administration exercise to fight the blindness-causing trachoma.

The mass drug administration was conducted for five days and reached an estimated 1.3 million beneficiaries across four counties of Narok and Kajiado in Kenya and Longido and Ngorongoro in Tanzania.

In Kenya, 934,665 persons benefitted with 576,091 people drawn from Narok and a further 358,574 others from Kajiado county.

Nearly 3.6 million people are in need of antibiotic treatment in Kenya and Tanzania if the transmission of bacteria that causes trachoma is to be halted, the Ministry of Health said.

WHO said both Benin and Mali succeeded by implementing the WHO-recommended strategy to eliminate trachoma with the support of WHO and partners.

The strategy consists of surgery to treat late trachoma complications; antibiotics to clear infection; facial cleanliness; and environmental improvement, particularly improving access to water and sanitation, to reduce transmission.

Benin has integrated trachoma elimination interventions with those implemented against other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), under the umbrella of the National Programme for Communicable Diseases.

“These are impressive public health achievements,” said Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, director of the WHO Global NTD Programme.

“Benin and Mali demonstrate how strong political will, cross-sector integration, surveillance and community engagement can work in concert to achieve disease elimination.”

Trachoma remains a public health problem in 41 countries (as of June 2022) with an estimated 125 million people living in areas requiring interventions against the disease.

The disease is caused by infection with the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis.

Infection is transmitted from person to person through contaminated fingers, fomites and flies that have come into contact with discharge from the eyes or nose of an infected person.

Environmental risk factors for trachoma transmission include poor hygiene, overcrowded households, inadequate access to water or use of proper sanitation facilities.

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