The US and UK development agencies are combining resources to map the blinding disease as a first step towards total eradication
While there are many causes of blindness, most are entirely avoidable. The international theme for World Sight Day 2013 is universal eye health. Today we draw attention to trachoma, a disease deeply affecting Mozambicans, and the world's leading cause of preventable infectious blindness.
In 1998, health ministers from around the world passed a resolution at the World Health Assembly with an ambitious public health goal of eliminating blinding trachoma by 2020. Since then, the US and UK have been working alongside numerous public and private partners to free people from the devastating effects of trachoma.
As the 2020 target approaches, collaboration between national governments, NGOs and donors is essential in determining where interventions are needed. At present, over 110 million people are believed to live in areas where trachoma is endemic but the exact distribution and disease burden of trachoma is unknown, with many areas left unmapped or having out-of-date epidemiological data.
Mapping is a critical first step in determining where prevention activities, distribution of medicines, and surgery are needed. RTI International, through the USAid-funded Envision project, and Sightsavers, through the DfID-funded global trachoma mapping project, are working together to respond to this need for mapping.
The goal of the global trachoma mapping project is to survey more than 1,200 districts in 34 countries where trachoma is suspected to be endemic, to identify where people are living at risk of blindness from the neglected tropical disease.
This year, Mozambique became the first country where USAaid and DfID have come together to support trachoma mapping. Recognising the need to maximise efficiencies brought the two together. Separately they both have limited resources, but it is clear that for projects like this, where the goal is elimination, not just in one country but total elimination, they can have a greater impact by combining forces.
The presence of multiple funders and development organisations supporting trachoma mapping could lead to miscommunication, overlap, and additional strains on government resources. Recognising the importance of collaboration, however, USAid and DfID have encouraged global partnership and in response, RTI and Sightsavers have increased communications on the ground in Mozambique and at a global strategic level. DfID and USAid are in communication regularly, taking advantage of global meetings to discuss collaboration, mapping needs and gaps.
Identifying these gaps allows them to determine where support is needed and to divide the workload. Most importantly, the mapping is all done using the same approach which standardises the results for global use. At an operational level, Sightsavers and RTI communicate almost daily in Mozambique. We are also both involved in the Mozambique eye care coalition, of which I am chair. Communication between two large global projects can often be difficult, but USAid and DfID have shown commitment to the process and tried to remain flexible to shift priorities as needed.
As implementing partners, RTI and Sightsavers share skills and resources to ensure that Mozambique's national directorate of public health has access to the best training, systems and methodologies and processes available and to ensure that 110 districts are mapped to the highest quality. Working in this way means that the country has one plan — one harmonised approach — for their activities instead of managing multiple funding partners with different agendas.
At the end of October, USAid and DfID will both support clinical grading training for representatives from Francophone countries in Ethiopia. Trained representatives will return to their respective countries to train field teams in baseline mapping of trachoma, which will improve global harmonisation of trachoma grading. In Senegal, DRC, Uganda and Guinea USAid and DfID are co-ordinating support for mapping, working to collaborate in much the same way as in Mozambique.
While we are at the beginning of our journey to eliminate blindness from trachoma in Mozambique, we have a clear target. Our progress in trachoma mapping thus far shows what can be achieved when a country is committed and when aid organisations work collaboratively, using their expertise and financial resources to support a common goal.
Reposted from the Guardian. Original article can be found at http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/oct/15/trachoma-blinding-disease-usaid