The World Health Organization (WHO) has validated Myanmar for having eliminated trachoma as a public health problem. Myanmar is the tenth country worldwide and the second country in WHO’s South-East Asia Region (after Nepal) to reach this milestone.
“This remarkable achievement reminds us of the importance of strong political commitment to implement integrated disease elimination measures, public engagement and disease surveillance” said Dr Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, WHO Director, Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. “The new neglected tropical disease road map for 2021–2030, which will foster these processes globally, should allow us to anticipate more such success stories from countries using WHO-recommended strategies.”
Trachoma is a preventable disease that causes irreversible blindness. It is the leading infectious cause of blindness globally. It remains a public health problem in 44 countries and is responsible for the blindness or visual impairment of an estimated 1.9 million people, most of whom are extremely poor.
“The burden of trachoma on affected individuals and communities is enormous” said Dr Anthony Solomon, who leads WHO’s global elimination programme. “This latest achievement provides further evidence of the effectiveness of the SAFE strategy’s package of interventions to fight trachoma: surgery for advanced disease, antibiotics to clear infection, and facial cleanliness and environmental improvement to limit transmission.”
Myanmar’s long road to trachoma elimination
In 1964 the Ministry of Health and Sports of Myanmar initiated its Trachoma Control Project with support from WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Community-based interventions comprised surgery, topical antibiotic treatment and improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), with health education promoting behavior change to decrease transmission.
The programme further expanded to incorporate broader activities to prevent blindness, offering accessible interventions in rural areas, where trained health workers worked tirelessly to serve their communities.
“Myanmar’s multi-pronged approach promoting access to good hygiene infrastructure and clean water, strengthening eye care systems, providing antibiotics and fostering complete community buy-in have enabled the country to ensure that people of all ages can now look towards a trachoma-free future,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.
In 2005, trachoma was responsible for 4% of all cases of blindness in Myanmar.
From 2010 to 2015, the annual period prevalence of blindness from all causes in the total population was very low in all regions and states, ranging from 0% to 0.023%. By 2018, this prevalence dropped to 0.008%.
The Government of Myanmar is committed to continue to implement eye care interventions, aligned with the Myanmar Health Vision 2030 Strategy that aims to advance the country’s universal health coverage. It is also pursuing plans to improve hygiene and sanitation by providing latrines to households and ensuring the availability of safe drinking water.
Regular post-validation trachoma surveys are also planned to provide post-validation surveillance.
Successful validation of elimination of trachoma as a public health problem in Myanmar will encourage other health ministries and their partners to continue their efforts against this painful blinding disease.