Ghana has officially been given the World Health Organisation (WHO) validation letter and a certificate, affirming that the country has eliminated trachoma as a public health problem.
By this, Ghana becomes the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve this milestone, two years before the global elimination target year of 2020.
“This is no mean feat; considering the volume of work that has been done over the years to bring us this far”, Dr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, the Minister of Health has stated.
Mr Agyeman-Manu, who was speaking at the celebration of the national validation of trachoma elimination by the WHO in Accra on Tuesday, described Trachoma as devastating eye disease caused by infection with the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis.
The disease is the leading infectious cause of preventable blindness globally, spreading from person to person, particularly among preschool-aged children, and also women mainly due to their close contact.
Trachoma thrives in crowded living conditions where there were shortages of water, inadequate sanitation and where numerous eye-seeking flies were present, adding that, in affected communities, infection was often first encountered in infancy or childhood.
The Health Minister acknowledged that although the journey had been very difficult, “we kept to our cherished desire to have a Ghana free of trachoma”.
He attributed the successes chalked, to the strong leadership and ownership demonstrated at all levels of the health structure through the communities, with special mention of the National Trachoma Taskforce.
He also mentioned the implementation of the full Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial and Environmental (S.A.F.E.) strategy, which entailed the use of Surgery to correct the advanced blinding stage of the disease (trichiasis); Antibiotics to treat active infection; Facial cleanliness; and Environmental improvements in the areas of water and sanitation to reduce disease transmission.
He further applauded the sustained efforts by the thousands of health, education and development workers to improve the lives of individuals with trachoma and their families.
He also commended the strong collaboration that existed between the Ministry, Ghana Health Service (GHS), government agencies and key partners, in the integration of programme activities at the community level.
Mr Agyeman-Manu said although trachoma was often referred to as an “ancient disease”, it still blinded a person every 15 minutes globally because it was associated with poverty, lack of clean water, as well as poor personal and environmental hygiene, which sadly persisted in many developing nations including Ghana.
The elimination of trachoma, he said, was cost-effective, yielding a high rate of net economic return, adding, “Shall continue to work tirelessly through inter-sectoral programmes and with partners to ensure the country maintained its current status.
Mr Agyeman-Manu suggested that the level of collaboration and integration be emulated for the country to achieve good outcomes and results in other areas of work including Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), communicable and non-communicable diseases, as well as policies such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Dr Owen Laws Kaluwa, the WHO Country Representative, who handed over the Elimination Certificate to the Minister of Health, congratulated Ghana for the achievement.
He also acknowledged the hard work and dedication of the numerous health workers, volunteers and communities and other key partners, referring to Ghana as a “trailblazer” worthy of emulation by the 25 other trachoma-endemic countries.
Dr Kaluwa said the WHO had from the onset provided strong leadership and direction as well as being in close collaboration with both the government and all key stakeholders, and would continue with its surveillance to ensure the sustained of trachoma patients.
Prevention of vision loss, however, required adequate, prompt treatment, in addition to education and teaching proper hygiene to the parents and children.