Each year an ethnic group called the Maasai lead their herds of cattle across a large stretch of land between Tanzania and Kenya, searching for food and water. The area where this seasonal migration occurs is also endemic to a bacterial disease called trachoma, which is the leading cause of infectious blindness.
The Maasai and other nomadic populations in East and Southern Africa are hard to reach with trachoma elimination programs because they don’t live in one country. To address this issue, The Task Force for Global Health’s International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) is helping fostering collaborative action among countries that are home to these populations.
In July, ITI convened separate meetings with representatives of ministries of health from 10 countries in East and Southern Africa to discuss strategies for ensuring nomadic populations benefit from trachoma elimination programs. These meetings were the continuation of efforts begun in 2014 among these countries.
“These countries know that they will never reach their individual goals for eliminating trachoma without working together, “ said ITI Director Paul Emerson, PhD. “As a result of their meetings, these countries are now coordinating their trachoma elimination programs in unprecedented ways.”
Among the outcomes of these efforts, the East African countries of Eritrea, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda, are working on a plan to coordinate mass drug administration of antibiotic in areas where migratory populations live. They also plan to share health education materials, and enhance efforts on hygiene in villages and schools along their common borders. These efforts are all part of a comprehensive strategy called SAFE to eliminate trachoma.
In Southern African, the countries of Tanzania, Mozambique, and Malawi, agreed to share surveillance data about trachoma prevalence among nomadic populations, which will help improve strategies to eliminate the disease.
ITI manages Pfizer’s donation of antibiotic for trachoma elimination and is working with partners to eliminate the disease as a public health problem by 2020.