The Gambia successfully eliminated trachoma as a public health threat, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) announced on Tuesday.
As a result, The Gambia became the third African country to be validated by the W.H.O. as having eliminated the disease as a public health problem.
Trachoma is a neglected tropical eye disease that mainly affects children, with infection less common with increasing age. It spreads from person to person through contaminated fingers, fomites and flies that came into contact with discharge from the eyes and nose of an infected person.
The W.H.O. said the achievement was largely in part due to “strong collaboration” with partner organizations to implement the W.H.O.-developed SAFE strategy.
This strategy, the global health agency said, encompasses surgery for trichiasis (in-turned eyelashes), antibiotics to clear infection, and facial cleanliness and environmental improvement to reduce transmission.
The W.H.O. also paid tribute to the West African country’s community volunteers who “played a crucial role in mobilizing communities and promoting behaviour change.”
W.H.O. Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said the achievement was “remarkable” as it will save many people from preventable visual impairment or blindness and improve their quality of life and well-being
“It is also a clear sign that we can achieve significant milestones through dedicated efforts in tackling health challenges in the region,” Moeti said.
The W.H.O., however, warned that non-formal schools, especially those situated in previously trachoma-endemic areas, remained a concern due to poor living conditions, including overcrowding and inadequate sanitary facilities, water supply and basic hygiene.
Schools also are a concern as students come from both within and outside The Gambia, raising the risk of transmission across geographical areas.
The W.H.O. pledged to continue to closely survey such areas, in collaboration with the government, to ensure a “rapid, proportionate response” to any resurgence of the disease.
In adults, women are up to four times more likely than men to be affected by the late complications of trachoma mainly due to their close contact with infected children.
Two-thirds of the 45 countries globally where trachoma is endemic are located in Africa, according to the W.H.O.