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By: Elizabeth Obigwe. Datelinehealth Africa Volunteer and Freelance Writer, with editorial support from The DLHA Team
Trachoma is a neglected infectious eye disease caused by a bacterium that affects both eyes.
The infection occurs in episodes which means that a person who gets infected might recover but get infected again until his/her vision becomes impaired.
Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness globally. It is responsible for the visual impairment of about 1.9 million people and it causes about 1.4% of blindness globally.
The front part of the eye is covered with two kinds of thin, transparent tissue layers; the cornea (which covers the coloured part of the eye) and the conjunctiva (which covers the white part of the eye and the inner part of the eyelids).
Generally, trachoma disease occurs in stages as follows:
Trachoma occurs when a bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis, infects the conjunctiva. The infection results in a type of inflammation called follicular conjunctivitis and the signs are more severe on the upper eyelid than on the lower one.
The disease is transmitted through direct and indirect contact with the discharge from the eyes or nose of an infected person. Kids are more likely to have close contact with one another and rub their eyes with their hands. Hence, they have a higher chance of contracting the infection.
The symptoms of trachoma include:
Trachoma is more common among children of preschool age (60-90% of cases), who are in the low socio-economic class and live in environments with poor hygiene standards.
Women are also at higher risk than men probably because they are likely to spend more time caring for infected kids.
Other factors that can increase your chances of contracting the disease are;
Trachoma can be prevented by the implementation of effective sanitary control measures. One such measure is the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) strategy promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Prevention and control of trachoma will require a combined effort of individuals in affected areas, the government and well-meaning local and multi-lateral organizations.
Trachoma is diagnosed via eye examination and laboratory tests. For eye examination, your doctor will examine your eye with the aid of a light and simple magnifier, to check for some of the signs and symptoms of trachoma.
For the laboratory test, the doctor will numb your eye and swab the surface to take a sample. He will then go on to test if trachoma is the cause of the infection.
Note that trachoma has a cumulative nature. So, it may take a long time for the disease to cause blindness. However, the blindness it causes is irreversible and may negatively affect individuals’ lifestyles and the socioeconomic growth of the region.
Early diagnosis will allow the doctor to treat the disease on time and the patient must be counselled to take the right steps to prevent reinfection.
The WHO recommends a treatment strategy known as SAFE for trachoma.
Africa, Central and South America, Asia, Australia and the Middle East are the key regions that are affected by trachoma.
Africa is affected the most as 33 out of the 57 countries classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as trachoma endemic regions are African countries.
According to the WHO, 7 of the 33 African countries have successfully eliminated trachoma as of May 16, 2023. Six are sub-Saharan African countries.
The countries are:
Trachoma is an infectious eye disease that has been neglected in many regions, especially in Africa. It is important that focus and adequate attention be given to this condition to help save the eyesight of affected people. Thankfully, trachoma can be prevented and treated. So, early interventions will prevent irreversible damage.
Published: May 17, 2023
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