Health ministry tackles trachoma

BY PHYLLIS MBANJE

THE Health ministry has embarked on an aggressive drive to tackle trachoma, a leading cause of preventable blindness by conducting baseline surveys in districts most affected by the disease.

Trachoma, which is targeted for elimination by 2020, is a disease caused by 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 add to the spread of the disease especially among children.

The Health ministry deputy director in charge of communicable diseases, Isaac Phiri last week said if trachoma is left untreated, it causes scarring in the inside of the eyelid leading to the upper eyelashes to turn inwards and scratch the eye globe, causing extreme pain, and eventually leading to irreversible blindness.

He urged people to desist from open defecation, construct and keep their toilets clean, as well as practice good hygiene such as face washing at all times, particularly children.

“The country is going for a nationwide drive to push for a [World Health Organisation] 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 Phiri.

The health ministry with technical support from WHO is conducting the third phase of trachoma baseline survey in 20 additional districts across the country to determine the extent of the tropical disease, which is a leading cause of preventable blindness globally. This will bring the districts mapped in Zimbabwe to 36.

Meanwhile, mass treatment 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. Medicines with an estimated cost of US$14 million have been delivered to the ministry with support from the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) and WHO. This year plans are afoot to carry out eye surgery outreach programmes in affected districts to manage the backlog estimated to be 6 500.

WHO medical officer responsible for disease prevention and control Anderson Chimusoro said trachoma surveys are essential in that they provide the fundamental data for quantifying disease burden that facilitates planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the disease control programmes.

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