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25 June 2013 | Ethiopia

Ethiopia completes surveys in two regions for signs of blinding eye disease

Geoffrey Knox

Health officials approve prevalence data from Oromia and Tigray gathered during Global Trachoma Mapping Project

Health officials in Oromia and Tigray regions of Ethiopia now know exactly where to plan trachoma elimination programs for more than 30 million people at risk of getting an eye infection that causes blindness. Trachoma prevalence data, which covers 53 areas in Oromia and 11 in Tigray, was approved by the respective Regional Health Bureaus and the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health in Addis Ababa.

'This is a major milestone,' said Dr. Anthony Solomon, Senior Lecturer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Chief Scientist for the Global Trachoma Mapping Project (GTMP). The data will be used to plan the treatment and elimination of this devastating disease. Ethiopia's new Neglected Tropical Disease master plan, launched June 12 in Addis Ababa, aims to establish a platform to share knowledge, document best practices, and facilitate the translation of knowledge into action to treat Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) that affect large segments of Ethiopia's population. Trachoma is one of these NTDs, in which repeated infections of the eyelid ultimately lead to blindness.

The GTMP is the largest disease-mapping project ever attempted, according to Solomon. More than 30 countries will be surveyed in the next two years, he said.

'176,000 people in Oromia, central Ethiopia, have been examined for signs of trachoma over the past five months,' Solomon announced at a national symposium in Addis Ababa organized by the Ethiopian Ministry of Health. 'We suspected that Ethiopia may be the country most profoundly affected by this cruel disease, so I am delighted to have the first set of data from the region, which means the Ministry of Health can identify exactly where trachoma is putting people at risk.'

An Ethiopian Ministry of Health official said the data 'tells us exactly where we need interventions to prevent blindness from trachoma' in two large regions of Ethiopia. 'More data are on the way to complete the map for the whole country,' said Oumer Shafi, the NTD Focal Person, Federal Ministry of Health of Ethiopia. 'Now we need support from partners to eliminate trachoma from every part of Ethiopia where we have found it.'

The prevalence data is available online on the Trachoma Atlas . It was gathered by more than 30 trained survey teams, with one grader and one data recorder on each team, in addition to drivers, local guides, field supervisors, coordinators and logistics and finance personnel. Each grader and recorder passed an internationally standardized test before starting fieldwork. Trachoma mapping is also already being carried out in Nigeria and Mozambique. The goal is to survey more than 1,200 suspected-endemic districts as part of the project, so Ministries of Health in trachoma endemic countries can identify areas where interventions to eliminate trachoma are required.

The mapping is being conducted by a consortium of the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), NGOs and academic institutions, led by Sightsavers and funded by the UK government. ITI, Light for the World, ORBIS and The Fred Hollows Foundation have been supporting Ethiopia's Ministry of Health to conduct household surveys, collecting the data on smartphones, via the LINKS-System . ITI is the steward for the data.

Simon Bush, Director of NTDs at Sightsavers commented: 'The speed at which this project has kicked off and covered a huge area in Ethiopia is astounding but necessary if we are to collect the data needed to deliver elimination. The information collected over the past months will now enable the Ministry of Health and its partners to plan drug distributions, and as part of the NTD master plan launched this week, ensure collaboration across vital sectors such as water and sanitation, health and education. The data also helps us to plan surgical interventions for those who have trichiasis, the painful end stage of trachoma.'

Trachoma affects more than 21 million people but it is estimated that an additional 180 million people worldwide live in areas where trachoma is highly prevalent and are at risk of going blind. It is confirmed endemic in 53 countries.

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