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Vanuatu first Pacific island nation to eliminate trachoma

The Fred Hollows Foundation has welcomed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) confirmation that Vanuatu has ended trachoma as a public health problem, making it the first Pacific island nation to eliminate the disease.

The foundation, with the support of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, The UK Government’s The Commonwealth Fund and the Australian Government’s Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) funding, has helped drive the final push to eliminate the infectious disease.

It comes as Australian health authorities struggle to stamp out trachoma in Indigenous communities, with a 2020 elimination target pushed out to 2022 due to COVID, and then again to 2025. Australia remains the only developed nation with endemic trachoma.

According to Fred Hollows, the disease thrives in areas where drinking water and sanitation is poor. It is easily spread through personal contact and by flies that have been in contact with people’s eyes or noses. It disproportionately affects mothers and children.

Fred Hollows CEO Mr Ian Wishart congratulated Vanuatu for declaring trachoma is no longer a public health problem. It’s the second neglected tropical disease eliminated from the archipelago nation of 83 islands, after lymphatic filariasis in 2016.

Ian Wishart.

“Vanuatu’s validation is encouraging news for several other Pacific nations which are working towards a final push to eliminate trachoma, an ancient disease that should not exist today,” he said.

The news is encouraging for other Pacific nations which are working towards stamping out trachoma under the Pacific Trachoma Initiative which includes Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and the Solomon Islands

Fred Hollows Pacific trachoma expert Dr Anasaini Cama said the WHO’s validation was the culmination of concerted efforts by the Vanuatu Ministry of Health, global funders, Australia’s foreign aid program through the ANCP and a dedicated team of eye health workers on the ground in Vanuatu.

“Public health teams were mobilised throughout the country’s 83 islands, mapping prevalence and administering antibiotics through the Mass Drug Administration (MDA) program,” she said.

“Vanuatu’s journey to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem demonstrates that by working in partnership at the global and local levels, we can deliver results that have a lasting impact on people’s quality of life and wellbeing.”

The International Coalition for Trachoma Control (ICTC) chair Dr Angelia Sanders said: “Significant research efforts have supported progress to elimination in Vanuatu and across the WHO western pacific region.

“Vanuatu’s success in eliminating trachoma as a public health problem should provide optimism across the region that the global NTD road map target to eliminate trachoma can be achieved by 2030, through effective partnerships and collaboration across sectors.”

WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases chief scientist Dr Anthony Solomon welcomed the announcement.

“We’re making a lot of progress to eliminate trachoma globally and we’re pleased to see Vanuatu and the Pacific notching up further successes,” he said.

During the past 30 years, Fred Hollows has restored sight to more than three million people around the world and supported programs to deliver more than 200 million doses of antibiotics for trachoma.

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