Carter Center Congratulates Ghana for Triumph over Trachoma

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Photo: Carter Center

 

June 14, 2018

ATLANTA…The Carter Center congratulates its longtime partner Ghana, which has become the first sub-Saharan African country to be validated by the World Health Organization (WHO) for eliminating the eye disease trachoma as a public health problem.

“Ghana’s success against trachoma shows the world and the remaining endemic countries that the greatest challenges can be overcome with persistence, political commitment, and the support of the international community,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, founder of The Carter Center, a pioneer in disease elimination and eradication for more than three decades.

Trachoma, a disease of poverty, is a bacterial infection that can lead to blindness. It can be treated and prevented through a WHO-endorsed strategy combining corrective surgery, antibiotics, hygienic practices, and improved sanitation, often referred to by the acronym SAFE. From 1999 to 2011, the Carter Center assisted the Ghana Health Service’s Trachoma Control Program as it ramped up surgical services and improved hygiene and sanitation in a number of ways.

“Ghana has persevered to rid itself of this terrible disease,” said Kelly Callahan, director of the Carter Center’s Trachoma Control Program, which has been a leader in the international trachoma campaign for 20 years. “I applaud Ghana’s dedicated trachoma health workers for improving the lives of so many for generations to come.”

Ghana actually succeeded in reducing trachoma as a public health problem by 2010, but it was ahead of its time: In 2010, the WHO and global trachoma experts had not yet developed a process or criteria to evaluate the country’s achievement. The WHO created a process in 2016 to allow for Ghana and other countries to be validated as having met the elimination as a public health problem targets. Together with partners, The Carter Center helped Ghana’s ministry of health to prepare a dossier, which is a document submitted to the WHO to be considered for official validation.

With financial support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, The Carter Center supported Ghana in training more than 8,000 community health workers, including teachers in over 400 schools, environmental health officers, and village volunteers, to deliver core program messages to rural villages, as well as supporting the construction of thousands of household latrines to improve sanitation. Radio broadcasts of trachoma prevention messages were used to reach Ghanaian villagers living in some of the most isolated and remote areas of the country. The program donated wind-up radios and supported local stations in the production and broadcast of weekly trachoma shows, hosting “radio listening clubs” for members to discuss the shows’ messages.

The Center started its Trachoma Control Program in 1998, the same year the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) began, and the WHO initiated a campaign through World Health Assembly Resolution 51.11 to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem. Principal partners in the Center’s multi-country efforts include Pfizer Inc. and the ITI, the International Coalition for Trachoma Control, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Lions Clubs International Foundation, Sightsavers, the U.K. Department for International Development, the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, the Noor Dubai Foundation, the OPEC Fund for International Development, Abbott and others. Currently, the Center works with six African countries — Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda — to implement the SAFE strategy. Mali and Niger are close to reaching the goal of wiping out the disease. In Nigeria and Ghana, the Center completed its elimination goals in the areas where it assisted those countries’ programs.

Carter Center’s history with Ghana – Guinea worm, agriculture, and democracy

The Carter Center and Ghana go back a long way. Ghana was one of the first countries to partner with the Center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program, in 1987. Nearly 180,000 cases of Guinea worm disease were reported during the country’s first national case search in 1989, ranking Ghana second in the world in cases at the time. Schools in some endemic communities closed because large numbers of students were afflicted, farmers were unable to tend their fields, and families became further entrenched in poverty.

The Ghana Guinea Worm Eradication Program introduced the following approaches that became universal best practices: health education; distribution of nylon household filters and pipe filters to strain out Guinea worm-infected water fleas; safe, monthly treatment of stagnant water sources with ABATE® larvicide, donated by BASF; direct advocacy with water organizations; and increased efforts to build safer hand-dug wells. Village volunteers, who were trained, supplied, and supervised by the program, carried out monthly surveillance, conducted health education and distributed cloth filters. Interventions were tailored to meet the unique needs of migratory farming populations. Targeted radio messages and the development of additional educational materials also were important tools in efforts to stop disease transmission.

Former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter visited Ghana in 2007, accompanied by Carter Center Board of Trustees then-Chairman John Moores, to see both programs, Guinea worm and trachoma, in action. The Carters toured Tingoli village in the Northern Region, where they donned traditional Dagomba attire, chatted with residents, and inspected well-constructed latrines.

Working with the Ghanaian Ministry of Farming and Agriculture, the Carter Center’s Agriculture Program began assisting farmers in the Ashanti and Central regions of Ghana in 1986 to improve food security. Although The Carter Center ceased its agricultural work in Ghana in 2003, farmers continue to use practices and skills gained through the program.

In 1992, The Carter Center sent an election-monitoring team to Ghana’s first democratic presidential election in more than 30 years. In 2008, The Carter Center observed Ghana’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

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