Health Ministry Scales Up Trachoma Elimination Efforts

THE Ministry of Health and Child Care will this year roll out eye surgery outreach programs in several districts across the nation to combat a tropical disease called trachoma.

By HealthTimes Correspondent

The outreach programs in these districts are meant to reduce an estimated backlog of 6 500 people believed to have this disease.   Trachoma is targeted for elimination by 2020.

A leading cause of preventable blindness globally, the disease is caused by a bacterial agent known as chlamydia trachomatis and spreads from person to person through flies, poor hygiene, crowded places, lack of clean safe water, and environmental factors such as humid conditions. Improper disposal of human excreta and garbage also adds to the spread of the disease, especially among children.

In an interview with the Health and Child Care Communicable Diseases Deputy Director Dr Isaac Phiri, he said Government is making strong efforts to tackle the blinding trachoma in the country.

Mass treatments campaigns using Zithromax, a strong antibiotic have been carried out in four highly endemic districts of Centenary, Binga, Gokwe South, and Lupane with a further 10 districts being targeted in 2019

“So far medicines worth about US$14 million have been delivered to the Ministry with support from ITI and WHO.

“If trachoma is left untreated, it causes scaring in the inside of the eyelid leading to the upper eyelashes to turn inwards and scratch the eye globe, causing extreme pain, and eventually lead to irreversible blindness.

“Those with advanced stages of the disease will need surgery to correct their in-turned eyelashes and prevent further damage to the eye,” Dr Phiri said.

Dr Phiri urged people to desist from open defecation, while encouraging them to construct and keep their toilets clean, as well as practice good hygiene such as face washing at all times especially among children.

“The country is going for a nationwide drive to push for a WHO recommended planning and implementation strategy known as SAFE (Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvements) in targeted districts.

“As straightforward as the SAFE strategy sounds, a significant rollout of all components of SAFE is needed in communities suffering from trachoma,” said Dr Phiri.

WHO Disease Prevention and Control Medical Officer Dr Anderson Chimusoro said trachoma surveys are essential in providing the fundamental data for quantifying disease burden that facilitates planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of trachoma control programs.

“This survey is supposed to give us information on the prevalence and distribution of trachoma in Zimbabwe.” Said Dr Chimusoro.

Barbara Murisa, 30, from Murewa pins her hopes on the baseline survey after her 8 year old son was screened and found with trachoma and is currently on treatment.

“I hope that if the disease is controlled, my son who is said to have an allergy will be able to complete his studies without difficulties from the allergy.” said Murisa.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry with technical support from World Health Organization (WHO) is in its third phase of the trachoma baseline survey in 20 additional districts across the country to determine the extent of the tropical disease. Bringing the number of mapped districts to 36. Some of the districts include Binga, Gokwe South, Gokwe North, Mazowe, Mt Darwin, Bindura, Goromonzi, Murewa, Tsholotsho, and others.

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