News and notices. December 04, 2019

Egypt distributes antibiotics to over 300,000 people to prevent and treat trachoma

MDA to a household, man handing dose of azithromycin to a lady and her children at their front door
© Sightsavers

Egypt has conducted its first mass drug administration (MDA) since 2001, giving it to over 300,000 people to prevent and treat trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness.

The MDA was conducted in the Menia region, where nearly 10 percent of children aged one to nine were identified as having active infection. Over the course of seven days health workers distributed doses of the antibiotic Zithromax®, donated by Pfizer, through the International Trachoma Initiative, to 288,365 people six months and up. To ensure safety, children under seven received their dose in the form of syrup as per guidelines provided by the International Trachoma Initiative.

During the MDA, teams went house to house in 24 villages, three suburban areas and one Matay prison, where the director of health personally took a dose of the antibiotic in front of prisoners to encourage acceptance. The 468 health workers also prepared communities for the drug distribution and shared information about trachoma through local media, social media, community leaders, policy makers, faith leaders, and other community organisations.

“This is the first time there has been such a large-scale distribution of antibiotics in the country. The Egyptian government, regional governments and other partners, have done a fantastic job to make this happen and proved that collaboration is key to overcoming challenges”, said Phillip Downs, Technical Director for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), Sightsavers. “We must remember that this is just the first step – more work is needed before Egypt follows in the footsteps of other countries and eliminates trachoma as a public health problem.”

Trachoma affects over 1.7 million people in Egypt, including 4 districts that require urgent surgical services to treat trachomatous trichiasis, the blinding stage of trachoma, according to surveys conducted in 2015.

Across the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR), trachoma is known to affect 10.4 million people and 34 million people live an areas that require urgent investigation to determine whether interventions are required. However, regional efforts through the EMR Trachoma Alliance has supported more than 17 million antibiotics being distributed for the disease since 2011 and three countries being validated by WHO for achieving elimination as a public health problem (Oman 2012, Morocco 2016, the Islamic Republic of Iran 2018).

“The Eastern Mediterranean Region has seen significant progress to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem in recent years and the successful distribution of antibiotics to these trachoma affected communities is an important step as the country looks to eliminate the risk of trachoma in its endemic districts”, said Babar Qureshi, Chair of the Eastern Mediterranean Region Trachoma Alliance.

“The successful distribution of antibiotics to trachoma affected communities in Egypt is an important step forward,” said Scott McPherson, Chair of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control. “Regional success to date as shown the importance of delivering all components of the SAFE strategy. Ensuring continued support and collaboration for a regional plan will make significant strides towards our goal of global elimination of trachoma as a public health problem. “

The treatment programme was delivered by the Egyptian Ministry of Health and district level governates and was supported by collaboration with international organisations including the International Trachoma Initiative, the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology, the Nourseen Foundation, Sightsavers and the World Health Organization. Local government and NGOs played a vital role in distribution and facilitating the successful delivery of the treatment programme.