The two countries joined 15 other countries validated by the WHO for eliminating the condition as a public health challenge. The countries are Cambodia, China, the Gambia, Ghana, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Malawi.
Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Togo and Vanuatu are others.
Besides, Benin and Mali are now the fifth and sixth countries in WHO’s African Region to get rid of trachoma.
“WHO congratulates the health authorities of Benin and Mali and their network of global and local partners for these milestones”, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a doctor and WHO Director-General, in reaction to the feat.
He added, “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 2021–2030.”
African countries that previously received WHO validation for trachoma elimination are Ghana (June 2018), Gambia (April 2021), Togo (May 2022) and Malawi (September 2022).
However, Nigeria is among 23 countries in WHO’s African Region and 41 countries globally where the condition remains endemic.
The ICIR also reports Nigeria is among the 15 countries most burdened with NTDs globally.
Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide. 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, noted WHO.
According to the health agency, an estimated 125 million people live in areas requiring interventions against the disease. Trachoma is found mainly in the poorest and most rural areas of Africa, Central and South America, Asia, the Western Pacific and the Middle East. The WHO African Region is disproportionately affected by trachoma, with 105 million people living in at-risk areas, representing 84 per cent of the global trachoma burden.
How Benin, Mali defeated the disease
The WHO noted that Benin and Mali implemented its recommended SAFE strategy to eliminate trachoma with its support and partners.
The SAFE strategy consists of surgery to treat late trachoma complications; antibiotics to clear the infection; facial cleanliness; and environmental improvement, particularly improving access to water and sanitation to reduce transmission. Through the International Trachoma Initiative, the antibiotic azithromycin is donated by Pfizer to elimination programmes implementing the SAFE strategy.
According to the WHO, Benin has integrated trachoma elimination interventions with those implemented against other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) under the National Programme for Communicable Diseases.
Trachoma is the third NTD to be eliminated in Benin, after dracunculiasis (in 2009) and gambiense human African trypanosomiasis (in 2021), the agency stated.
Similarly, Mali has conducted trachoma impact and surveillance surveys and rolled out interventions to achieve elimination targets, despite security challenges in the country’s northern regions and sociopolitical upheavals in recent years.
Trachoma is the first NTD to be eliminated in Mali.
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