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WASHing away blinding trachoma

Helen Hamilton, April 2013
A woman holding a child, smiling and standing outside a thatched dwelling.

“Elimination of trachoma will only be achieved through collaboration within WASH sector”

This week, GET2020, the WHO-led international Alliance for Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 is meeting at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva.

Sightsavers and WaterAid are actively participating in the meeting. Although this meeting is an annual event, this year we are really pleased to see water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) firmly on the agenda.

A SAFE solution
Why is this so important to us at Sightsavers and WaterAid? Despite being a critical part of control and elimination efforts for blinding trachoma, WASH has often been marginalised within trachoma policy and programming. Despite the fact that two of the four elements of the WHO-endorsed SAFE strategy to control and eliminate blinding trachoma (Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvements) rely on successful implementation of WASH interventions, the implementation of the F and E components of SAFE is frequently under-prioritised in planning and implementation of trachoma programmes. So this year at GET2020, the discussion of WASH in trachoma elimination efforts is an important milestone.

Moving forward together
Following on from initial discussions at last year’s meeting, the discussion centred on lessons learnt from F and E implementation efforts in the Gambia, Ghana, and Tanzania, as well as building on international efforts for improving closer collaboration between the WASH and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) sectors. Participants agreed that improved collaboration is possible by establishing a common vision on disease reduction and improved WASH services, and by creating national and international planning and budgeting platforms that bring all relevant actors together. We hope that future GET2020 meetings will provide a regular forum for sharing country experiences and reporting on progress against SAFE strategy implementation.

Collaboration is the key
To contribute to the discussion, WaterAid and Sightsavers have produced a paper titled WASHing away blinding trachoma that calls for greater commitment to integrate WASH within trachoma elimination efforts. The paper explains that the elimination of blinding trachoma will only be achieved through cross-sectoral collaboration between the trachoma and NTD stakeholders and the WASH sector. This collaboration must build integrated SAFE efforts into programmes, funding and policy. We believe that full implementation of the SAFE Strategy can consign blinding trachoma to the history books.

We (the global NTD community) have the tools to eliminate blinding trachoma and we have set ourselves the ambitious target of reaching this goal by 2020. To get there we must give equal priority to each element of the SAFE strategy and deliver on our commitment to ending blinding trachoma together.

Read WASHing away blinding trachoma.

By Helen Hamilton (Sightsavers) and Yael Velleman (WaterAid)

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