A Quiet Disease
Pain in the eyes
Since she was a child Loveness Mphanie of Mangulu Village has suffered
from the excruciating pain of trachoma.
This is an infection which
starts as an irritation in the eye, but during repeated infections
eventually causes the eyelids to turn inwards and the eyelashes
rub on the cornea at the front of the eye.
This leads to scarring,
which in turn results in severe vision loss and blindness, usually
when people are 40 to 50 years old. In Loveness’ case, the
untreated infection caused her eyelids to turn inwards, causing
pain every time she blinked.
For some people, tweezers become a fashion accessory, being worn
as a necklace. They are used to pluck out the turned-in eyelashes
as a way of relieving the pain. However, this is at best only a
temporary measure, as the eyelashes usually grow back.
is a ‘quiet’ disease. It remains hidden in rural communities
where people live in overcrowded conditions and have limited access
to water and health care.
Yet six million people world-wide have
already lost their sight through trachoma and many more are affected – resulting
in many people simply accepting it as a ‘fact of life’.
Before Loveness was treated for her trachoma, she could only see
4 metres with her left and 5 metres with her right eye. She had
to rely on her husband for everyday things and found it hard to
look after her children.
Had it been treated in the early stages,
she would only have needed to use an eye ointment – but once
the infection has progressed, an operation is needed.
at an eye screening camp, Loveness was immediately taken to the
local health clinic where it took a simple 20-minute operation
to turn her eyelids outward.
Prevention is better than cure
Early treatment of trachoma can cure the infection, and scientists
are currently testing long acting oral antibiotics that may be
effective even in a single dose.
Whilst this is good news, prevention
is far better than cures. Community members can prevent Trachoma
and its transmission through environmental changes, such as better
access to water and improved sanitation facilities.
practices such as regular face washing can help win the fight
against Trachoma. In villages in Tanzania and Egypt where face
washing has increased, the spread of Trachoma has been reduced.