DONATE
Sightsavers from the field

Bringing hope to Darfur: how mass drug administration is tackling trachoma

May 2017
Asha Ahmed takes her medication as part of the mass drug administration project in Darfur, Sudan.
Asha Ahmed (centre) takes her medication as part of the mass drug administration project in Darfur, Sudan.

“After years of not receiving adequate healthcare, many people were affected with trachoma”

As a young man, my memories of Darfur are of it being one of the most beautiful areas of Sudan. The Marrah mountains were a well-known tourist destination, and the people in the region were always welcoming.

Suddenly the situation changed quite quickly – almost overnight. The fighting began when the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement rebel groups took up arms against the government of Sudan. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to abandon their farms, homes, livestock and property. Livelihoods have been lost and the way of life that existed for generations has been disrupted.

As displaced people moved across the country or made their way to the camps set up by humanitarian organisations, delivering assistance to affected communities via humanitarian aid, basic social welfare services and healthcare became increasingly challenging.

After years of not receiving adequate healthcare, many people were affected with trachoma, an infectious eye disease. As a programme officer for Sightsavers Sudan, I knew the numbers were suspected to be high and the area to be endemic. But to tackle the problem we needed to know where those affected people lived.

Three years ago, as part of the Global Trachoma Mapping Project run by the UK government’s Department for International Development, funding was provided to the Sightsavers country office in Sudan to map trachoma in the five states that make up Darfur.

Being able to map trachoma meant that last year, when the security situation began to improve and people were able to access remote villages once again, Sightsavers was able to roll out the region’s first mass drug administration campaign, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and with funding from the END Fund. The aim was to treat blinding trachoma in Central, West and North Darfur states – a region as big as France.

The first phase was finding community drug distribution volunteers to distribute the drugs. Recruiting people wasn’t too hard: after years of not having proper healthcare, people were keen to receive training and be part of a team of 3,366 volunteers helping to eliminate this neglected tropical disease in their communities.

In less than a year, more than 1.3 million people have already been given Zithromax® medication to treat and prevent trachoma.  By the end of May we expect this number to rise to almost 2 million people.

Community volunteers Amina and Samera distribute MDA on a home visit in Darfur state.
Community volunteers Amina and Samera distribute MDA on a home visit in Darfur state.

Three years ago, as part of the Global Trachoma Mapping Project run by the UK government’s Department for International Development, funding was provided to the Sightsavers country office in Sudan to map trachoma in the five states that make up Darfur.

Being able to map trachoma meant that last year, when the security situation began to improve and people were able to access remote villages once again, Sightsavers was able to roll out the region’s first mass drug administration campaign, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and with funding from the END Fund. The aim was to treat blinding trachoma in Central, West and North Darfur states – a region as big as France.

The first phase was finding community drug distribution volunteers to distribute the drugs. Recruiting people wasn’t too hard: after years of not having proper healthcare, people were keen to receive training and be part of a team of 3,366 volunteers helping to eliminate this neglected tropical disease in their communities.

In less than a year, more than 1.3 million people have already been given Zithromax® medication to treat and prevent trachoma.  By the end of May we expect this number to rise to almost 2 million people.

Asha’s story

Asha Ahmed lives in the Abu Zereiga village in Dar El Salam locality in north Darfur. Despite the conflict and deteriorating economic circumstances, she decided to stay in the village where she was born, along with her husband and two daughters, Samira and Rawda.

The family were given Zithromax® to prevent trachoma. Although they don’t currently have the disease, Asha told us she was aware of it and shared the story of her neighbour, Hawa, for whom help from the volunteer drug distributor had come too late.

“Hawa has a daughter who is only nine years old, called Nora. She got an eye infection followed by changes in her eyes. People told her it was conjunctivitis. Hawa started traditional medicine to treat Nora,” explains Asha.

“Later, Nora gradually started losing her sight. Her mother thought she would be fine if she continued using traditional medicines. But Nora’s suffering never ended and her sight deteriorated. Sadly Nora lost her vision totally. After a long period, Nora was referred to the hospital, where she was told that she had trachoma.

“Nora’s case was enough of a lesson for us, and I realised that we must protect ourselves from trachoma. This is why myself and my daughters are very keen to take the medicine and encourage all our neighbours to do so.”

Asha says the treatment campaign is an opportunity for people in the village to learn more about trachoma, through education or awareness sessions shared by volunteers or through the local radio. “We have learned about the importance of face cleaning, environmental sanitation and other useful hygiene tips from these sessions.”

Volunteers visit people's homes to distribute medication as part of the MDA project in Darfur.
Volunteers visit people's homes to distribute medication as part of the MDA project in Darfur.

This programme has been a success: huge number of drugs have been distributed in the area for the first time, and a large number of volunteers and health workers have been trained to safely distribute these drugs and raise awareness about trachoma. But most importantly, Asha and many other mothers are now aware of the causes of trachoma, how to prevent the bacterial infection and how to seek treatment for themselves and their children. This is helping Sudan to move closer to its trachoma elimination target.

Even in areas affected by conflict and instability, it is possible for Sightsavers to reach people in need and help to combat neglected tropical diseases such as trachoma.

As a Sudanese who remembers the region as one of beauty and friendship, I am so proud to be involved in a programme that is now providing a healthcare service to save the sight of millions of poor and marginalised people in the region.

By Adam Elkhair, Programme Officer for Sightsavers in Sudan

Want to read more about our work?

Neglected tropical diseases
Sightsavers from the field

How you’re helping us restore sight in Bangladesh

Sightsavers’ Ella Pierce travelled to Bangladesh and met eight-year-old Suborna, who was in desperate need of a cataract operation. This is her journey.

December 2017
Three women sat outside talking.
Sightsavers blog

Keeping up political momentum on disability and development

By hosting a summit, the UK government is committing to making disability-inclusive development a global priority. We must make sure this political momentum is not lost.

Natasha Kennedy, December 2017
A riverbed with green bushes and trees at its edges.
Sightsavers blog
Blogs / NTDs /

How field surveys can help us fight trachoma

In February this year, Sightsavers supported our partners with the ambitious task of conducting field surveys for trachoma in Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi.

Ruth Dixon, November 2017