MALI— The former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s foundation dubbed, the Carter Centre, has celebrated the announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) that certified that the countries of Benin and Mali had eliminated trachoma as a public health problem.

The Carter Center acknowledged the support of the Helen Keller Intl, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and Sightsavers partnership to support the government of Mali in their fight against trachoma.

Professor Lamine, Coordinator of the Programme National de la Santé Oculaire (PNSO) of Mali, “The burden of trachoma was severe when the program started, yet Mali showed what is possible with collaboration and partnership.”

Mali PNSO survey in 1996, found trachoma in nearly every region of the country with nearly 10 million people at risk of going blind.

Prof. Traoré added that he was proud to share the incredible achievement with the people of Mali and hoped it was an inspiration to other countries facing similar battles.

25 years of fighting Trachoma in Mali

Kelly Callahan, the director of The Carter Center’s Trachoma Control Program told Voice of Africa (VOA), “The Carter Center was already a decade into its fight against Guinea worm globally when former President Jimmy Carter and his nonprofit took on another neglected tropical disease in the African nation of Mali.”

Callahan recalled that Mali and The Carter Center’s partnership on trachoma began when President Carter traveled there to visit President Amadou Toumani Touré in 1998.

Callahan noted that statistics that troubled President Carter were from 1996 to 1998, it was estimated about 85,000 to 90,000 people would go blind from trachoma.

Moreover, 25% to 50% of the children between the ages of 1 and 9, in all areas of Mali, suffered from the beginning stages of this disease.

Since 1998, the Carter Center and its partners have funded and staffed programs in Mali to develop widespread strategies to treat and prevent infections, even during Mali’s recent armed conflict and continuing instability.

The Carter Center believes its program in Mali has helped avert blindness in more than 5 million people, and the antibiotics used to combat trachoma also help prevent infant mortality.

“The elimination of trachoma as a public health problem is no less than Herculean,” Callahan told VOA.

Sadi Moussa, the Carter Center’s senior representative in Mali, said he believed the success of his organization’s program to eliminate trachoma could boost efforts to combat other neglected tropical diseases, like Guinea worm.

“Working in an unstable country like this is really challenging for everyone. This will also help us with donors to show them that we are serious in what we are doing, and we can convince them to get more resources,” said Moussa.

While Carter has retired from public life and is receiving hospice care at his home in Plains, Georgia, Callahan said the center keeps him up to date on the status of its health programs, including recent developments in Mali.

“We heard that President Carter was thrilled beyond belief, so we’re very excited that he knows,” Callahan said.

The program has also worked with ministries of health in four other African countries, EthiopiaNigerSouth Sudan, and Sudan, to eliminate blinding trachoma.

Trachoma, a preventable and treatable cause of blindness

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, trachoma is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness, more than any other infection in the world.

WHO notes that trachoma remains in 23 countries throughout Africa, with approximately 105 million people on the continent living in areas at high risk for infection.

The Carter Centre’s Trachoma Control Program adds that the disease can be found in 44 countries, mostly in Africa and the Middle East, and a few in the Americas and Asia.

Moreover, globally nearly 136.2 million people are at risk for trachoma, which represents a 12.8% reduction from 156.6 million in 2018.

The Center and partners’ success is attributed to the implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed SAFE strategy for trachoma control.

WHO’S SAFE is a multipronged approach to trachoma prevention that comprises Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness, and Environmental improvement.

Through the SAFE approach, the center’s trachoma program has trained and equipped local health workers to surgically correct eyelids deformed by trachomatous trichiasis (TT), the scarring that results from multiple trachoma infections.

Additionally, from 1999 through 2021, the Center has assisted national programs in providing 868,653 TT surgeries in Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Sudan, and in 2021 alone the Center supported 14,440 corrective eyelid surgeries.

Also, the center reports that since 1999 it had assisted in the distribution of nearly 220 million doses of Zithromax (donated by Pfizer Inc.), an effective trachoma-fighting antibiotic, and in 2021 alone the Center assisted in the distribution of 15,339,387 doses.

Mali now becomes the 17th country to receive the WHO’s validation of the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem.

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