By Joyce Ojanji

Malawi becomes the first in southern Africa and the fifth in Africa to eliminate trachoma, a bacterial eye infection that can cause irreversible blindness if untreated.

This follows the establishment of a national task force that implemented the World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended SAFE strategy to control the disease which entailed training a cadre of mid-level eye clinicians on surgery to treat the blinding stage of trachoma, rolling out antibiotic mass drug administration with donations from Pfizer, and carrying out public awareness campaigns to promote facial cleanliness and personal hygiene.

“With Malawi showing the way, I hope other endemic countries in southern Africa will prioritize the fight against neglected diseases that cause untold suffering to vulnerable populations,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Trachoma, is a public health problem in 42 countries with an estimated 125 million people living in areas endemic for the disease.

It is the leading infectious cause of blindness, and is triggered by infection with the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. Infection spreads 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 and inadequate access or use of proper sanitation facilities.

Significant progress has been made over the past few years and the number of people requiring antibiotic treatment for trachoma in Africa fell by 38% from 178 million in 2016 to 111 million as of June 2022.

Globally, Malawi joins 14 other countries that have been validated by WHO for having eliminated trachoma as a public health problem. These are Cambodia, China, Islamic Republic of Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Gambia, Ghana, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Togo and Vanuatu.