Mali, amidst political tumult, triumphs over trachoma?!

On Wednesday, the esteemed World Health Organisation (WHO) made the spine-tingling announcement that Mali has become the 17th country where trachoma is no longer deemed a public health problem.

This significant milestone is the result of faultless dedication and perseverance from the joint programme operated by WHO and The Carter Center, which conducted surveys in 1996 that identified 10 million individuals as vulnerable to trachoma.

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This contagious bacterial infection severely targets the eyes, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, causes more blindness and vision loss than any other case across the world.

What makes Mali stand out is the sheer level of adversity they successfully overcame despite political instability and immense conflict riddling their densely populated region. Sensational reporting from News24 details interviews with three public health honchos from The Carter Center involved in the Mali mission to reveal just how challenging trachoma in Mali was.

These experts noted that combined effort and consistency were critical factors in the fight against this blight. In fact, their concerted efforts are so remarkable other countries battling illnesses like trachoma should pay attention to their approach.

The fight to eradicate trachoma in Mali came at a cost with approximately ZAR 380 million (about US$20 million), which funded by donations from organizations such as Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Lions Clubs International Foundation, but unfortunately, it was not enough to create lasting infrastructure for the future of Mali’s public health sector.

Consequently, there is still a great demand for donor agencies to remain committed even amidst the socio-political disturbances that lie ahead.

Furthermore, the WHO conducted the Joint External Evaluation to appraise public health and international health regulations core capacities, demonstrating a low score and poor capacity in 19 technical areas. This realization strengthens the case that Mali needs health system strengthening and investment to deal with other diseases like the eradication of guinea-worm disease.

However, the lack of political goodwill during the fight to eradicate trachoma, particularly in the Ministry of Health, remains a challenge for Mali’s public health sector. It has been noted that conflict in the region delayed and complicated the situation since the safety of health workers was not always guaranteed.

Therefore, it is essential to continue working towards maintaining appropriate water and sanitation services while investing in health infrastructure to improve the sustainability of Mali’s public health sector.

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