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.”
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.”