A big victory in eye health in the country of Ghana was achieved on June 13 when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the country was free of trachoma.
As the first nation in sub-Saharan Africa and the Commonwealth to be rid of the eye disease, Ghana has demonstrated for much of the third world that eliminating trachoma is a possibility. The effort was led by Sightsavers, an international aid organization committed to preventing blindness in developing nations through partnerships and on-site work. In 2000 Sightsavers began working in Ghana in an effort to eliminate the contagious bacterial eye infection known as trachoma. When Sightsavers first began the Ghana initiative, there were an estimated 2.8 million people at risk for developing the disease.
The news of the elimination of trachoma in Ghana gives hope to the estimated 200 million people at risk of trachoma in 41 countries, mostly located in Africa. Sightsavers Director of Neglected Tropical Diseases Simon Bush is proud of the organization’s work in eliminating the disease, however, he cautions that there is much work still to be done throughout the African continent. The organization was able to reach its goal through the work of a vast global alliance working in partnership with local governments, pharmaceutical companies, and communities to combat the spread of the disease. Bush reiterated that there are many other countries so close to also reaching their eliminations goals, and in that vein, the fight must continue.
Trachoma begins as a simple bacterial infection in the eye but it can spread quickly if left untreated. The disease is spread by both flies and human touch and can lead to blindness. Trachoma is so prevalent in the developing world because lack of access to clean water combined with poverty are two of the biggest risk factors of contracting the disease. Women are four times as like to contract trachoma compared to their male counterparts. In addition to the lead work of Sightsavers, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer is also credited with helping in the elimination of trachoma from Ghana. Pfizer donated 3.3 million doses of its Zithromax antibiotic to help treat the disease at its roots.