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Malawi: World Health Organization Declares Malawi Trachoma-Free

Blantyre, Malawi — Malawi has become the first country in southern Africa to eliminate trachoma, the leading infectious cause of blindness, the World Health Organization announced.

It is the fourth country in Africa to stamp out the bacterial infection, after Ghana, Gambia and Togo. The WHO said in a statement that Malawi has been known to be endemic for trachoma since the 1980s.

The disease received due attention in 2008 following a survey conducted in support of the WHO and Sightsavers, a nongovernmental organization.

The findings spurred the country to step up efforts against trachoma by establishing a national taskforce which implemented the WHO-recommended strategy known as SAFE to control the spread of the disease. The SAFE strategy comprises provision of surgery, antibiotics to clear the infection, facial cleanliness and environmental improvement through access to water and sanitation.

Bright Chiwaula, country director for Sightsavers in Malawi, said besides the SAFE strategy, the achievement is also a result of several elements, including training of surgeons and the promotion of good hygiene education.

“Another element is where we assured that we had a monitoring mechanism in place that was effective and efficient, making sure that we were able to track what was happening in the country as regards trachoma elimination,” Chiwaula said.

Trachoma is one of a number of neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, and is endemic in nearly half the countries in Africa.