By Richard Chirombo:
The Countess of Wessex, Sophie, who is a member of the British royal family, has hailed Malawi for removing the risk of trachoma across the country.
She expresses her appreciation in an open letter to Malawians published on Monday, March 11, in which she says: “I am delighted to hear the news that it is now official: Malawi has removed the risk of trachoma across the country”.
Sophie— who is the wife of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh— says developments in Malawi are heart-warming for trachoma has been a health challenge for thousands of years.
“For millennia, trachoma has blighted the lives of millions. Slowly and painfully, people lose their sight. They become unable to leave their homes, go to work and provide for their families. Children miss school as they have to stay at home to care for their relatives. Communities are trapped in a cycle of poverty, moving from one generation to the next.
“But now trachoma is preventable and treatable. With leadership and a concerted effort over several years, it can be eliminated. This is what is happening in Malawi. Thanks to the unwavering leadership of Malawi’s Ministry of Health, the committed efforts of organisations working closely together within the International Coalition for Trachoma Control, and the communities themselves, the people of Malawi are no longer at risk of going blind from trachoma,” she says in the letter.Advertisement
The Countess of Wessex has played a direct role in fighting trachoma in Malawi. In 2014, when The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust – of which she is Vice-Patron – began work in Malawi, eight million people were at risk of losing their sight to trachoma. Now there are none.
She last visited Malawi in 2017, when the last few cases of trachoma were being located and treated.
According to Ministry of Health Principal Secretary, Dan Namarika, the country will, for the next two years, monitor and manage any new cases of trachoma.
If success is registered, the World Health Organisation will, in 2020, be able to certify that the disease is eliminated as a public health problem in Malawi.
“Over 5,600 people have been provided with sight-saving surgery. Over eight million people have been treated with antibiotics to stop the spread of infection. Sanitation and access to clean water have been improved. Communities across the country have been informed of the hygiene measures to take in their daily lives, such as face-washing, to remain trachoma-free.
“Since I visited Malawi in 2017, all 53 Commonwealth countries have committed to take action towards achieving accessible eye health for all, and to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem by 2020. Malawi shows that it can be done. I commend Malawi for reaching this milestone and I am filled with hope that other Commonwealth nations where the disease is endemic are equally committed to ending this ancient scourge,” Sophie says in the letter.
The development comes barely a month after Namarika reported that Malawi was becoming a star in fighting trachoma.
“We are celebrating that we are almost at a stage of elimination. That’s a no mean achievement. Trachoma, as you may be aware, does not kill but is causes permanent disability. Disability in the sense of losing sight. If half of our population is at risk of losing sight, then you could see how the development agenda could be affected,” Namarika is quoted as saying.
The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Chief Executive, Astrid Bonfield, said they were happy with what the initiative had achieved in the country.
“As the work of the Trachoma Initiative comes to a close, the continued efforts of national governments and their partners will be paramount to ensuring that countries that have borne the brunt of this terrible disease for too long are declared trachoma-free in the very near future by the World Health Organisation,” she said.
Chief Executive Officer of Sightsavers, Caroline Harper, also hailed stakeholders for playing a positive role in the initiative.
“Distributing treatment, training surgeons and mobilising case finders on such a large scale has only been made possible through effective partnerships, and millions of people’s lives are better as a result,” she said.
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