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27.01.2006 Health

Ghana on track to eliminate blindness from trachoma by 2010

By GNA

Accra, Jan 27, GNA - Ghana is on track to become one of the first countries in more than 50 years to eliminate blinding trachoma as part of an international effort to eliminate blindness worldwide, an International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) said on Friday. Ghana's trachoma-control program is coordinated by the Ghana Health Service and is expected to be successful by 2010, 10 years before the global elimination target date set by the World Health Organization. "We are proud that our national trachoma control strategy is expected to be so effective over the next four years," said Dr. Maria Hagan, Head of Eye Care of the Ghana Health Service.

"We are working very successfully with our partner organizations and we look forward to the entire country benefiting from the elimination of this tragic disease."

Trachoma is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness. Caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, the disease was once prevalent in many parts of the world but is now limited to approximately 56 countries, primarily regions in the developing world where water and sanitation services are not readily available. The disease is easily spread through casual contact and mother-to-child contact but it can be controlled through improved hygiene, sanitation, use of antibiotics and simple surgery in advanced cases.

ITI said approximately eight million people worldwide are visually impaired as a result of trachoma, with 84 million suffering from active infection.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10 percent of the world's population is at risk for trachoma, making it a major public health threat.

In Ghana, an estimated 2.6 million people are at risk of trachoma infection, with 12,000 cases of trachoma-related blindness. Infection is most prevalent in children ages 1-5 years old. Women are two to three times more likely than men to be infected by trachoma as close contact with children makes them more susceptible to repeated infection.

The Ghanaian trachoma elimination effort is being implemented by the Ghana Health Service together with other sister ministries with the assistance of international non-governmental organizations and public health organizations including the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI).

"Our partnership with the Ghanaian government on trachoma control efforts has been extraordinary," said Dr Jacob Kumaresan, President of ITI.

"The country is making great strides to reduce trachoma infections and we are now confident that blindness from the disease will be eliminated within the next four years."

The strategic plan for trachoma control in Ghana has as its vision a "Ghana Free of Blinding Trachoma".

The goal is to eliminate blinding trachoma from Ghana by 2010. The statement said the trachoma problem in Ghana was different from that in some other countries in West Africa (e.g. Mali and Niger) in that disease prevalence is spotty and concentrated in two of the country's 10 administrative regions: the Northern and Upper West regions.

Active trachoma prevalence rates in the districts of the two northern regions range from 2.8 to 16.1 percent. District trichiasis prevalence rates range from 0.4 to 8.4 percent.

In 2004, trachoma control activities were expanded into all 18 districts of the two known endemic regions in Ghana.

In 2005, the government divided several of the districts and as a result the 18 districts were increased to 26. Trachoma prevalence surveys will be conducted in the 9 districts in the Upper East Region of Ghana and any district found to have trachoma prevalence rate of public health significance will be brought on board to implement the SAFE strategy.

The five-year national strategic plan for the Trachoma Program began implementation in 2005.

The statement said the surgical services strategy being implemented was the community-based approach whereby services were brought directly to the patients.

People who visit health facilities for other reasons and are found to have trichiasis are counselled and provided with trichiasis surgery at this level. Presently, nine districts whose prevalence rates of active trachoma are 10 percent or above are receiving district-wide antibiotic distributions.

In the remaining 17 districts, mass antibiotic treatment is carried out in all comm unities with significant levels of active trachoma prevalence. Districts and communities that have completed three rounds of antibiotic treatments and found to have prevalence rates no longer of public health significance will graduate. The statement said since the inception of the program in the year 2000, 3,177 people who were at the potentially blinding stage of the disease had been provided with surgery. Meeting surgery targets during the first stage of Ghana's trachoma elimination program was a challenge due to the low rate of case detection as well as the time-consuming training of trichiasis surgeons. 27 Jan 06

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