By Tendai Guvamombe

“With focussed efforts and the right support, Zimbabwe can eliminate the blinding disease trachoma, ” Peter Bare, Country Director, Sightsavers Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is celebrating progress this World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day on 30 January. However, NTDs such as trachoma still need to be eliminated.

Sightsavers and partner organisations work with communities across Africa to
eliminate or control these painful but treatable conditions, which include trachoma, river blindness, lymphatic filariasis and schistosomiasis and intestinal worms. NTDs
are known as diseases of poverty and if left untreated can have debilitating effects on the people affected.

Sightsavers Zimbabwe will mark World NTD Day by conducting a national level
trachoma elimination planning meeting. The meeting will be attended by stakeholders from different sectors, including water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and will create a roadmap to accelerate the elimination of trachoma in the country.

World NTD Day is an opportunity to raise awareness and recognise everyone
involved in the fight against NTDs including the government, health workers,
communities, volunteers and the drug donation programmes.

Sightsavers has been supporting the Ministry of Health with trachoma elimination since 2014 and, since 2019, has distributed more than 4.5 million treatments for trachoma. In 2022 alone,
the organisation supported 884,935 treatments in Zimbabwe to protect people from trachoma.

Peter Bare said, “We are making significant strides towards eliminating trachoma in
Zimbabwe and this phenomenal achievement is improving people’s lives.
“NTDs hit the poorest people hardest and eliminating them benefits both individuals
and wider communities.

For example, a person losing their sight in extreme pain to trachoma might not be able to work, farm, cook, care for their family or go to school.

Eliminating NTDs transforms lives as more children can learn and more adults can

“But the global fight against NTDs is far from over. The time is now for making smart, evidence-based intelligent investments and we need urgent action to end the scourge of trachoma in Zimbabwe.”

The theme for World NTD Day this year is ‘Unite, Act, Eliminate’ and campaigners
from across the world are coming together to raise awareness of the risks of NTDs
and ensure people have access to programmes which will achieve disease elimination.

Sightsavers is calling for new funding, continued government leadership and support from partners to change people’s lives as well as their ability to contribute to their communities and the economy.

In Zimbabwe we are specifically calling for
multisectoral collaboration between the business, water, sanitation and hygiene
communities as well as other government ministries beyond the Health Ministry to
ensure the sustained elimination of trachoma and other Neglected Tropical Diseases.

In 2017 the World Health Organization estimated that neglected tropical diseases
cause households to lose more than $33 bn globally every year from out-of-pocket
spending and lost wages.

For instance, when left untreated, repeated trachoma infections scar the eyelid and
pull the eyelashes inward, so with every blink they scrape against the eye. For people suffering from advanced trachoma, the pain can be so intense that they find it
agonizing to even blink. Over time this leads to sight loss. Like trachoma, other NTDs also have serious, long-term effects. So, it is crucial to end these diseases of poverty.

In 2023, the World Health Organization confirmed 51 countries have now eliminated at least one NTD – including Benin and Mali which eliminated trachoma in 2023, Malawi which eliminated lymphatic filariasis in 2020 and trachoma in 2022 and Togo which has eliminated four NTDs.

The world is more than halfway to the WHO’s goal of eliminating 100 NTDs from countries by 2030, an incredible achievement in global health, but with more than one billion people around the world still at risk from NTDs there is still much more to do.