Trachoma disease eliminated says health ministry

In a positive development, the Vanuatu Ministry of Health has recorded a decrease in trachoma eye disease in Vanuatu, leading it to report to the United Nations that the disease has been eliminated.

Vasiti Taleo of the Ministry of Health’s Neglected Tropical Disease program says just five years ago, trachoma –an infectious disease which can cause blindness – was one of Vanuatu’s most prevalent eye diseases.

Mrs Taleo says the ministry has been recording a steady drop in new cases of trachoma following a mass drug administration program it ran to treat the disease around the country in 2016.

“In 2017, we made a survey of trachoma cases and found that the number of new cases had decreased,” Mrs Taleo said.

“In 2019, we submitted a final report to the World Health Organization to say that the ministry believed Vanuatu was free of trachoma.”

Mrs Taleo says the ministry is now waiting for a response from the World Health Organisation to certify that Vanuatu is trachoma free.

Trachoma, which has been a prevalent infectious disease in Vanuatu in the past, occurs in overcrowded areas, where there is poor hygiene, no proper toilet facilities or a lack of clean water.

Doctor Johnson Kaso of the Vanuatu National Eye Centre at the Vila Hospital, says trachoma is passed to humans by flies. He says when a fly sits on someone’s eye; it passes germs to the eye causing red eye which can lead to trachoma and eventual blindness without treatment.

Dr Kaso says diabetic eye disease – which can be caused by poor diet and lack of exercise – and eye traumas are other problems affecting the eyesight of Ni Vanuatu.

His says in Vanuatu eye traumas are particularly affecting children whose eyes can be injured when they play with sharp objects such as knives.

Dr Kaso says domestic violence is also having an impact especially on the eyes of women, with women being punched in the eye sometimes losing their sight.

“I appeal to parents to prevent their children playing with knives or sharp objects because they can damage eyes,” Dr Kaso said. “I also appeal for men not to use violence against women.”

The Vanuatu National Eye Centre is supported by both the Vanuatu Government and the Australian aid organisation, the Fred Hollows Foundation.

Dr Kaso says the eye centre’s work has been impacted by a government budget freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He would like to see the centre fully government funded and not dependent on Fred Hollows Foundation support.

However, he says government support to place eye nurses in Vanuatu’s provincial hospitals has been a positive development. He says a number of eye nurses from the provinces attended a recent training program in Port Vila and will return to their communities “with new ideas and knowledge on treating eye diseases”.

Dr Kaso is calling on the people of Vanuatu to recognise the importance of taking good care of their eyes.

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