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City of Banjul
Saturday, May 15, 2021

Gambia eliminates trachoma as a public health problem

Press release

The Government of The Gambia is very pleased to inform the general public and its development partners that The Gambia has now eliminated trachoma as a public health problem. This confirmation was made in a recent communication from Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, DirectorGeneral of the World Health Organization (WHO) to Dr. Ahmadou Lamin Samateh, Minister of Health of The Gambia. Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of infectious blindness and is part of a group of conditions known as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). It starts off as a bacterial infection that’s a bit like conjunctivitis and can be easily treated. However, if it is not treated, over time, it causes scarring to the eyelid and pulls the eyelashes inward, so with every blink, the lashes scrape against the eye. This advanced form of trachoma is called trichiasis and can result to intense pain. In the absence of effective treatment, trichiasis can lead to blindness. In 1986, a survey found that trachoma was the third leading cause of blindness in the country.

After three decades of hard work, The Gambia is the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem. This is a milestone achievement which resulted from strong partnerships that supported the full and coordinated implementation of the WHO endorsed SAFE strategy which entails the provision of surgery for trichiasis patients, the distribution of antibiotics (Zithromax) via mass drug administration to treat trachoma infections and reduce the spread of the disease; teaching local communities the importance of face washing and encouraging good hygiene to prevent the spread of the infection and improving access to water and sanitation to reduce exposure, re-infection and eliminate conditions that favour the breeding of flies.

The Government of The Gambia, through the Ministry of Health, wishes to thank its partners for supporting The Gambia Trachoma Programme. We are particularly indebted to Sightsavers, Pfizer, International Trachoma Initiative, WHO, UNICEF and MRC at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Department of Community Development, Department of Water Resources, National Environment Agency and Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. At the heart of the implementation of the SAFE strategy were our eye health workers and communities including community volunteers/nyateros who organised environmental sanitation activities, took part in mass drug administration and promoted behaviour change for face washing and encouraged patients to take up trichiasis surgery. Our success would not have been possible without their active participation and ownership of the Trachoma Programme. We recognise and appreciate their outstanding commitment and contributions.

The elimination of trachoma as a public health problem is a significant contribution towards the attainment of our National Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals. We take this opportunity to renew our commitment towards the new WHO NTD Roadmap 2021 – 2030. The Government of The Gambia, with support from partners, is strengthening its efforts towards the elimination of other NTDs, including lymphatic filariasis in the coming years.

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