TEPIC, Mexico, April 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
M exico has become the first country in the Americas to eliminate
trachoma, but the world's leading infectious cause of blindness
remains endemic in Brazil, Colombia and Guatemala, the World
Health Organization said.
"Eliminating a disease is not achieved every day," Carissa
Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization
(PAHO), the organisation's regional office, said in a statement.
She attributed Mexico's victory over the bacterial disease
to the decades-long efforts of authorities, health workers and
communities to improve health and quality of life.
Better living conditions have wiped out trachoma in many
nations but some 200 million people are still at risk of
contracting the disease, according to the International Trachoma
Oman and Morocco have already eliminated trachoma, which is
categorised by the WHO as a neglected tropical disease - a group
of 18 debilitating and sometimes fatal illnesses that affect 1.5
billion people, mainly in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Trachoma, which can cause irreversible blindness, had proven
hard to stamp out in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas,
where it was endemic in 246 communities, the PAHO said.
Specially trained medical workers helped cut the number of
cases in Chiapas to zero in 2016 from nearly 1,800 in 2004, by
promoting hygiene, antibiotics for infection and surgery for
advanced cases of trachoma.
The illness is more common in places with poor sanitation,
overcrowded households and water shortages.
Trachoma can be prevented in childhood by having facilities
for children to wash their faces, and if caught soon enough the
disease is easily treatable with repeated doses of antibiotics.
Those suffering an advanced stage of the disease, in which
the eyelashes turn inward and scrape the cornea, can be treated
with simple surgery.
Women are four times more likely than men to be blinded by
trachoma, largely due to their greater contact with children and
frequency of infection from the disease, says the WHO.
More than 260,000 people received corrective surgery
worldwide for advanced trachoma in 2016 and 86 million were
treated with antibiotics, according to the agency.
Cambodia, China, Gambia, Ghana, Iran, Laos and Myanmar have
also reported reaching elimination targets for the disease, but
these have yet to be verified.
(Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Megan Rowling and Astrid
Zweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
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and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/)