16 October 2014 was a very exciting day for the people of chief Lukwa in Kasungu District in Malawi. They witnessed history in the making: the launch of the Malawi Trachoma Elimination Programme by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust* and the Malawi Ministry of Health. The event included traditional dances; speeches by high profile representatives; testimony from a trachoma patient and exhibitions by some of the implementing partners for the programme (Sightsavers, WaterAid, CBM).
Approximately 9.5 million of the 14 million people in Malawi are at risk of contracting trachoma. 33,000 people already have advanced stages of the disease that can lead to permanent blindness. The programme is therefore a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make trachoma history in Malawi. About £7.3 million has been provided to the programme by the Trust, enough for full elimination. The programme is being coordinated by Sightsavers and implemented by ICTC (the International Coalition for Trachoma Elimination) members: Sightsavers, CBM, AMREF Health Africa, WaterAid and Blantyre Institute for Community Ophthalmology.
The programme will target 17 trachoma-endemic districts, working with the government, and will support the existing National Trachoma Control Programme towards elimination. The aim is full trachoma elimination in Malawi by early 2019.
What does trachoma elimination mean for Malawians?
Elimination of blinding trachoma has many benefits. It would help break the cycle of poverty by preserving the ability of individuals to work and provide for their families. Children’s school attendance would also be increased as they would no longer be required to drop out of school due to poor vision and discomfort or to work as guides for trachoma infected adults. Overall it would contribute tremendously to improved quality of life for the people of Malawi.
The day of the launch
In her remarks the Minister of Health, Dr. Jean Kalirani, (the guest of honour representing the president) eloquently pledged the Malawi government’s commitment to supporting trachoma elimination in Malawi. She reminded everyone that the chief challenge to eliminating trachoma in Malawi has been inadequate financial resources and personnel. She excitedly confessed that the trachoma elimination programme is the first to openly say, “We have enough money for implementation and be assured we will not knock at your door to ask for additional resources.” She challenged her ministry to take up leadership and coordination of the programme through the National Blindness Prevention Committee and the national trachoma taskforce to provide leadership direction and monitor progress.