Mass effort to tackle blinding disease in Kenya and Tanzania

Tuesday, July 12th, 2022 08:03 | By
Dr. Patrick Amoth

Kenya and Tanzania will today launch a joint five-day cross-border trachoma mass drug administration (MDA) exercise targeting over 900,000 members of the Maasai community.

The focal person of this initiative by the Ministry of Health, Titus Watitu, said the multi-faceted, collaborative approach seeks to eliminate the blinding disease that affects close to 3.6 million people in both countries.

“By partnering with our neighbours, we can ensure that everyone in the local community receives the antibiotic,” said Watitu.

Kenya aims to eliminate trachoma by 2025, he added. The exercise will be launched at Olposimoru Centre in Narok West sub-county by the Health Ministry director general Patrick Amoth and the Arusha Regional Commissioner (RC) John Mongella.

Mongella said trachoma is borderless, since it is spread by flies that live around cattle, a dominant economic activity of the Maasai. “That is why collaboration between the two governments is critical,” he stated.

Alice Mwangi, the Kenya Country Director for Operation Eyesight, a coordinator of  the exercise, said it would build on the success of the previous MDA in Narok County. During the drive, some 460,000 people in need of treatment received antibiotics last year.

“Antibiotics are an effective and proven way to prevent the spread of trachoma. We know this because, together, we are declaring entire villages free of untreated cases of trachoma”, Mwangi added: “Community eye health activities are helping us shift the dial on, not only trachoma, but other conditions as well.”

Watitu said antibiotics will be administered to people with the disease, or at risk of developing it, in Narok and Kajiado counties, as well as in Longido and Ngorongoro districts of Tanzania.

Low uptake

Previous efforts at mass drug administration have been hampered by low uptake, after sections of pastoralist communities move out in search of pasture.

The disease can also be contained through surgery, facial cleanliness to reduce transmission, and environmental improvements targeting construction of wells and latrines.

The National Trachoma Elimination Programme, funded by Sightsavers, aims at treating 1.9 million people across the four counties of Kajiado, Narok, Turkana and West Pokot. The disease is endemic in 12 counties with a combined population of 11 million people.  

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