TRACHOMA is a significant public health problem which has been affecting people mostly in endemic districts in the country. It has become a most serious blinding eye disease caused by infection with the bacterium known as ‘Chlamydia trachomatis’.
Statistics made available by World Health Organization (WHO), show that, the disease has affected about 37 countries and is responsible for blindness or visual impairment of about 1.9 million people.
Based on April 2018 data statistics by WHO, about 158 million people live in trachoma endemic areas and are at risk of trachoma blindness.
Efforts by the Ministry of Health in the country and the National Trachoma Task Force formed since 1999 towards eliminating high infection rates of the disease in the country, has shown a tremendous progress in various local communities especially where the disease is endemic in the country.
Various serious campaign initiative at national level aimed to eliminate the spread of painful trachoma disease was introduced eight years ago between the government and a UK based Sightsavers organisation.
Since the campaign started, the government is optimistic that the rate of disease infections in the country has brought a relief to common people as it has reduced down by over 80 percent since a special program to curb the prevalence of the disease in mostly six endemic regions flagged off.
The Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Hon. Ummy Mwalimu revealed recently in Dodoma that, “the current demographic health statistics on the disease in the country have been declining significantly from 160,000 cases reported in 2010 to below 17,000 cases recorded in December 2018.
The minister revealed at a function jointly organised between Tanzania and UK government with a view to see how the campaign initiative has worked at various surgery camps which had been opened in regions where the prevalence of the disease is so high in the country.
The occasion which was also graced by British High Commissioner accredited in the country Ms. Sarah Cooke was held in commemoration to celebrate the fifth and last five year Tanzania-UK collaboration program aimed at eliminating trachoma disease in the country which started in 2014 and ends this year 2019.
The special control program was introduced in the country with the aim of eliminating the spread of disease with high prevalence cases in six endemic regions which includes Dodoma, Arusha, Manyara, Lindi, Mtwara and Coast regions.
The Health Minister said that, efforts to reduce trachoma transmission in the county have been contributed largely by a number of initiatives jointly carried out between Tanzania and UK-based Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust through a charity firm known as Sightsavers organisation.
The campaign initiatives enabled the establishment of various surgery camps where patients are treated free of charge.
These camps have been scattered in various local communities in mostly endemic regions and which to a greater extent have reduced the rate of infections which had been so rampant in poor communities.
Trachoma is a most hateful disease which among others is a cause of blindness that makes sufferers feel unhappy once are attacked and more painful about the disease is that sufferers are sometimes segregated or stigmatized and finds themselves live in isolation.
Describing the characteristic nature of a trachoma disease and its spread, the National Director of the Tropical Diseases (NTDCP), at the health ministry headquarter Dr Upendo Mwingira, says that, infection spreads through personal contact (via hands, clothes or bedding) and by flies that have been in contact with discharge from the eyes or nose of an infected person.
Dr Upendo further asserted that, “the infected eyes causes scar tissue to develop in the eyelid and if this is left untreated or not cured within a considerable timeframe cause total blindness”.
She noted that, the eyelashes may be drawn in so that they rub on the surface of the eye, with pain and discomfort and permanent damage to the cornea part of an eyelid.
According to her, “the eyelashes of the infected patient turn inward, scraping the surface of the eye with every blink the infected people slowly lose their sight because the iris part of an eye overshadows the vision”.
Such total blindness is caused as a result of the late treatment which is caused by the bacteria known as Chlamydia Trachomatis.
The bacteria is easily transmitted by flies from one person to another or as a result of direct personal contacts with the infected persons.
The age at which this occurs depends on several factors including local transmission intensity. In very highly endemic communities, it can occur in childhood, though onset of visual impairment between the ages of 30 and 40 years is more typical.
Visual impairment or blindness results in a worsening of the life experience of affected individuals and their families, who are normally already amongst the poorest of the poor.
Women are blinded up to 4 times as often as men, probably due to their close contact with infected children and their resulting greater frequency of infection episodes.
She has therefore urged the local people especially those residing in rural areas to develop the habit of washing out their faces with clean and safe water within their locality noting that, this is the only means to be safe from being attacked by the disease.
Medical specialists undertaking regular treatment of the trachoma disease attributes the high infections comes about as a result of none availability of water that could enable people residing in poor communities use for washing faces, thus transmission of disease bacteria gets an easy way from one person to another by flies.
Tanzania is among seven countries where the Sightsavers organisation operates in Africa. Other countries includes Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Nigeria and Mozambique whereby an estimated 90,000 people have benefited so far with the program.
According to the organization’s Senior Press and Public Relations Officer Ms. Katya Mira, they have been working in collaboration with government’s ministry of health on a number of various health issues.
The services are offered to the victims at surgery camps free of charge. A typical example of the largest camps in the country is located in Bahi District which is in Dodoma Region which is amongst the most hit with highest prevalence rates other than any other region in the country.
The camp is controlled and run by Kongwa Trachoma Project (KTP), which is among 21 project centres which an international Sightsaver organisation has formed among others in various parts in the country.
According to the KTP’s Project Manager, Harran Mkocha, his centre controls three districts of Bahi, Chamwino and Kongwa in Dodoma Region whereby since it was formed in 2014 has managed to successfully carry surgery to over 3,000 affected patients in all 59 villages within Bahi District alone.
Narrating on their work schedules, Mkocha noted that, they have a tendency of visiting one ward comprising of about 6 villages and carry operation to the affected patients per every week.
*Emmanuel Onyango is a freelance journalist