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Trachoma is eliminated in Ghana

June 2018
A group of children in Ghana smile and wave at the camera.
Children celebrate during the final trachoma treatment campaign in Yendi, northern Ghana. © Sightsavers/Ruth McDowall

Ghana has become the first country in sub-Saharan Africa and the Commonwealth to eliminate trachoma, as validated by the World Health Organization.

Sightsavers has been working in Ghana since 2000, when about 2.8 million people in the country were estimated to be at risk of trachoma. On 13 June 2018 the World Health Organisation (WHO) made the official announcement that the country had eliminated the disease as a public health problem.

According to the most recent statistics, there are about 157.7 million people at risk of trachoma in 43 countries, the vast majority of which are in Africa. Ghana’s breakthrough achievements show that eliminating this eye disease is possible, and it is hoped this will pave the way for many other countries to follow.

Sightsavers Director of Neglected Tropical Diseases Simon Bush said: “Through collaboration, determination and sheer hard work, Ghana has eliminated a painful eye disease that has devastated the lives of millions of the most vulnerable people for years. This achievement was  possible because a global alliance worked together – from government departments and international organisations  through to funders, pharmaceutical companies and the communities themselves.

“But the fight does not end here. Many other countries are on the cusp of elimination and must continue to push for the elimination of trachoma, and other neglected tropical diseases, across the world.”

Rahinatu holds her granddaughter and smiles following her trachoma surgery.

Stories from the final campaign

By eliminating trachoma in Ghana, Sightsavers and partners have helped to change millions of lives.

Read the stories
Ayishetu from Ghana sits beside a tree with a patch on her right eye following her trachoma surgery.
Ayishetu was treated for trachoma and was able to return to work as a midwife. © Sightsavers/Ruth McDowall

“I felt my prayers had been answered”

Trachoma is an infectious condition spread by flies and human touch, linked to poverty and lack of access to clean water and sanitation. It starts as a bacterial infection: if left untreated, it causes the eyelids to turn inwards so the eyelashes painfully scratch the surface of the eye, which can lead to irreversible blindness.

Women are four times more likely to develop advanced trachoma than men. Ayishetu Abdulai, a midwife from Yendi, suffered from trachoma and was interviewed during Ghana’s final trachoma surgery campaign. The disease was severely affecting her eyesight, and she was struggling to do her job and deliver babies in her village.

Following the treatment, she said: “I can’t remember exactly how long I’ve had this problem – more than a year. It felt like there was something in my eye, a pricking sensation and a lot of pain.

“I could help the new mothers bathe their babies, but I couldn’t deliver babies like I used to. It was hard to see the mothers in labour and not be able to help. I had difficulties in carrying out daily tasks – I could be walking and just see blurriness, so I’d stand there for some time, clearing the tears.

“I didn’t know there was a solution to this problem – I was just waiting to be blind. When they told us we could be helped, I felt my prayers had been answered.”

157 million
people worldwide are thought to be at risk from trachoma

Trachoma was eliminated in Ghana thanks to partnership between the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service, communities, pharmaceutical companies, WHO, funders, more than 20 NGOs and members of the International Coalition of Trachoma Control, including the International Trachoma Initiative, Sightsavers, The Carter Center, USAID END in Africa and FH1360.

The partners together delivered the WHO-endorsed SAFE strategy, encompassing surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness and environmental improvement.

As a result of collaborative efforts, more than 6,000 people in Ghana had pain-relieving and potentially sight-saving surgery and 3.3 million doses of the Zithromax® antibiotic, donated by pharmaceutical company Pfizer, helped to treat and protect people from infection.

Fighting trachoma: the SAFE strategy

This approach helps to control trachoma via surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness and environmental improvements.

More about SAFE

Read more about our work to eliminate trachoma

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