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December 03, 2013

Kenyan Doctors Work to Eliminate Trachoma by 2020

by Mohammed Yusuf

Health workers in Kenya say more than 60,000 people are living with trachoma, an infectious eye disease that causes blindness if not treated early.  Medical professionals are working in a remote village to bring an outbreak of the disease under control.

In this remote rural district in southern Kenya, a local trachoma monitor teaches a group of women how to prevent the eye disease and also how and where to get treatment.

Lester Mortai is well known in this area for his work fighting trachoma.

He frequently travels through villages, advising people on the best ways to avoid getting the painful disease.

“I do visit homesteads and tell people to how to prevent diseases by having their own initiative, to have that facial cleanliness those without trachoma and even those with trachoma," said Mortai.

Trachoma is caused by bacteria and is transmitted by contact with eye or nose discharged of an infected person.  In developing countries, flies are a major source of transmission.

The African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) says more than 7,000 people in Kajiado suffer from trachoma - which is typical in this type of poor pastoral community.

It characterized by painful eyelid swelling and scarring of the outer surface of the eye, the cornea.  

Ngeyan Nge is a trachoma sufferer with an advanced stage of the disease. To avoid blindness, Nge will undergo surgery.

“I am hopeful about the future, even though in the beginning I was opposed to the surgery. I have changed my mind, after continuous advice from people," said Nge.

John Soine, with AMREF, travels to remote areas of Kenya to operate on those with serious cases of trachoma like Nge’s.

“If these people with active infections are not treated, they end up developing complications whereby the eyelashes start facing inwards and start rubbing on the eye ball.  And at this stage one may lose vision. And the loss of vision in trachoma is irreversible," said Soine.

Kadogo Salaash had almost lost her vision to the disease more than five years ago. She too was initially doubtful surgery could help her.

“When I decided to go for the eye surgery, I was worried and uncomfortable, I thought after the surgery I would not see again. But now it’s the opposite; I am confident, happy and I can do my work well," said Salaash.

With this kind of medical assistance and campaigns at educate schools and poorer communities, Kenyan medical officials hope to reduce trachoma prevalence to under 10 percent and eventually eliminate it entirely by 2020.