Armed with the slogan, “With water, soap, and cleanliness you can prevent trachoma,” schoolteachers, scientists, and self-named “Trachoma Brigades” in Mexico managed to completely eliminate the infectious disease from the country this month.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Mexico was the first country in the Americas to eliminate trachoma.
Trachoma is caused by a bacteria that infects a person’s eyes and soft tissues. Repeat infections can lead to scarring and eventual blindness. It usually affects young children, and spreads quickly through personal contact, or even through flies that have had contact with an infected person’s eyes or soft tissues. Gross. It primarily affects people in poverty living in isolated areas in over 41 countries across the world.
The disease has historically affected Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia as a public health issue – but Mexico has managed to take itself off that list. Originally, the disease had infected over 146,000 people in the country. The government took action in 2004 and focused on promoting cleanliness, improving their citizen’s living conditions, administering antibiotics, and implementing new surgical procedures to eliminate the disease from their population. It worked.
In order to legally qualify for the designation, less than 5% of children between the ages of 1 to 9 in a country have to be affected by the disease. Mexico has now reached well below that criteria, making them the third country in the world after Morocco and Oman to do so.
“This is a historic moment for public health in Mexico and the Americas,” said Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in an interview with NBC News, “Eliminating a disease is not achieved every day.”