Kenya and Uganda have conducted the first ever cross-border mass drug administration (MDA) to eliminate the blinding eye condition trachoma.

The MDA was conducted at Alakas Primary School in Amudat district, Uganda and supports the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended best practice that ensures full coverage of pastoral communities residing across country borders.

Speaking at the launch, the Ugandan State Minister for Karamoja Dr Maria Goretti said that she was delighted to launch the Kenya/Uganda trachoma mass drug administration. “I would like to thank the RTI International for initiating the trachoma cross border meeting as far back as 2015 and the ministry of health team and partners for sustaining the effort. I thank our Kenyan brothers for their efforts in working jointly with Uganda on trachoma elimination ranging from joint surgery, joint MDA and behaviour change communication,” said Dr. Goretti. 

Trachoma is listed by WHO as one of 20 Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and is the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide.

The infection spreads through personal contact (via hands, clothes or bedding) and by flies that have been in contact with discharge from the eyes or nose of an infected person. With repeated episodes of infection over many years, the eyelashes may be turned in so that they rub on the surface of the eye, with pain and discomfort and permanent damage to the cornea.

The elimination strategy is summarized by the acronym "SAFE", which means Surgery for Trachoma Trichiasis in advanced stages of the disease, Antibiotics to clear the infection, Facial cleanliness and Environmental hygiene to reduce transmission.

Head division of vector borne and neglected tropical diseases at the Kenya Ministry of Health Wycliffe Omondi said 11 million people were at risk of being blinded by trachoma in Kenya. But after a series of continuous and consecutive free treatments to community members, the ministry had been able to reduce prevalence and is now treating seven counties out of the 12: Baringo, Isiolo, Kajiado, Narok, Samburu, Turkana, and West Pokot. Turkana and West Pokot border Uganda. 

“Mass drug administration on its own is not the silver bullet. We must put in place collaborative mechanisms to ensure that prevalence remains where treatment has taken it to,” Said Omondi.

According to Dr Teshome Gebre Kanno, International Trachoma Initiative Regional Director for Africa, there should be a collaborative partnership that cuts across the region without artificial or political boundaries. 

The West Pokot County chief executive officer in charge of health and sanitation Christine Apokoreng said: “As a county government the heath budget is the highest among the 10 ministries and we want to applaud the work done by The Fred Hollows Foundation, Sightsavers, International Trachoma Initiative and of course our mother, the Ministry of Health, they have really supported us. The exercise is expected to take one week where we are targeting over 300,000 people with antibiotics,” said Apokoreng.

In Kenya, the cross-border efforts are led by Kenya’s Ministry of Health with support from The Fred Hollows Foundation, funded through the Sightsavers’ led Accelerate programme. Uganda’s cross-border efforts to eliminate trachoma are led by the Ministry of Health, with support from USAID’s Act to End NTDs’ | East program, led by RTI International.