Trachoma is eliminated in The Gambia

April 2021
A group of women sing, dance, and clap their hands.

The Gambia has become the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate trachoma, ensuring that millions of people will no longer have their sight threatened by this potentially blinding disease.

In April 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that the country has eliminated trachoma as a public health problem. The disease has already been eliminated in Ghana, as validated by WHO in June 2018.

Trachoma, part of a group of conditions known as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness.

Sightsavers has supported the government of The Gambia to improve eye health since 1986, when a survey found that trachoma was the third leading cause of blindness in the country. The Gambia Trachoma Elimination Programme was born, which enabled the country’s government officials, health workers, community volunteers and the communities themselves to collaborate to reach this global health milestone.

A trachoma grader looks at a child's eyes to check for signs of the disease.

Our fight to banish trachoma

About 1.9 million people worldwide are blind or visually impaired because of trachoma. Find out what we're doing to eliminate it.

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Balla Musa Joof, Sightsavers’ country director for The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, said: “The elimination of trachoma in The Gambia is a huge achievement. After decades of hard work, our children can grow up without fear of this disease, and our government can direct resources toward tackling other health issues.

“We have shown to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa that elimination is possible. It’s a huge task, but with collaboration and partnership, it can be done.”

Trachoma was eliminated in The Gambia thanks to partnership between the ministry of health and the National Eye Health Programme, as well as local communities, the World Health Organization, Sightsavers, UNICEF, the Medical Research Unit for The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the International Trachoma Initiative, which provided Pfizer-donated antibiotics.

Together, the partners delivered the WHO-endorsed SAFE strategy (surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness and environmental improvements) to prevent the spread of the infection and lead to elimination.

Early research in The Gambia looked at using the antibiotic azithromycin to treat trachoma, which is now the most common way to treat the disease.

It is possible that we will see trachoma eliminated in our lifetime. The Gambia joins 11 other countries that have eliminated the disease, including Ghana, Oman, Morocco and Mexico. This means millions of people no longer live with the pain, suffering and blindness it can cause.

A man stands outside with a group of schoolchildren.

The Gambia’s elimination journey

Behind this incredible achievement lie three decades of hard work and collaboration. Meet the people who have been integral to the programme’s success.

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