Cambodia Eliminates Trachoma – Leading Infectious Cause of Blindness

Cambodia has reached a major achievement by eliminating Trachoma as a public health problem. Trachoma is an eye disease caused by infection with Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. It is the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide. Infection is spread through contact with discharge from the eyes and nose of an infected person, particularly young children. It is also spread by flies, which have been in contact with the eyes and noses of infected people. Transmission of the infection is closely linked with poor sanitation and hygiene.

On 12 October 2017 at the 68th Session of the Regional Committee Meeting of the WHO Western Pacific Region in Brisbane, Australia; the World Health Organization (WHO) handed over the Certificate of Recognizes Elimination Trachoma to the Ministry of Health Cambodia, receiving by H.E. Dr. Or Vandine, Director General for Health representative of H.E. Dr. Mam Bunheng, Minister of Health and the Head of Delegation attended this important meeting.

H.E. Dr Mam Bunheng, Minister of Health Cambodia stated that Between 2014 and 2016, rigorous assessments were conducted in Cambodia, which allowed an independent review group to conclude that trachoma was no longer a public health problem. “We have worked hard to rid Cambodia of trachoma–a painful and blinding neglected tropical disease. It goes to show that targeted programmes–led by the Ministry of Health through our national programme, under strong leadership and support from Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and with commitment of dedicated health leaders and staff–can be effective, and we are ready to share our experience with other countries in the region that want to do the same”.

The Ministry of Health would like to acknowledge, by this remarkable achievement, to health leaders and professionals at all levels including development partners for their commitment and active participation in combating Trachoma.

In Cambodia, The National Prevention of Blindness Committee and the National Program for Eye Health (NPEH) were established in 1995. Trachoma was identified as a key issue and its elimination became an important goal for the national program. A series of trachoma rapid assessments conducted in 2000 led to the implementation of trachoma control activities, which included provision of 10,264 trichiasis surgeries, treatment of school-aged children and targeted communities, and health education. Moreover, considerable efforts were and are being made by the government and development partners to improve access to water and sanitation throughout Cambodia.

WHO validates the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem when a country can show that: i) less than 5% of children aged 1–9 years have signs of active trachoma (trachomatous inflammation–follicular), which requires treatment with antibiotic eye drops; ii) less than 0.2% of people over 15 years have a more advanced form of disease (trachomatous trichiasis) requiring eyelid surgery; and iii) their health system can identify and manage any new cases of trichiasis.

Dr. Yunguo Liu, WHO representative in Cambodia, stated, “This is a remarkable achievement for Cambodia. Trachoma is an infection that affects repeatedly children and community and ultimately leads to irreversible blindness. Visual impairment or blindness results in a worsening of the life experience of affected individuals and their families, who are normally already amongst the poorest of the poor. Cambodia has tackle this public health problem by making the right decisions for the health of its population.”

The Ministry of Health is implementing a trichiasis surveillance programme to help ensure that any patient identified with trichiasis gets managed rapidly and the NEHP is monitoring reports from eye health centres.

The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization will continue to work together to address the challenges of trichiasis surveillance, identification, and management, as well as Cambodia wider public health mission.