Celebration of Nepal’s Elimination of Trachoma as a Public Health Problem

22 November 2018, Kathmandu, Nepal

Your Excellency, Hon’ble Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Upendra Yadav; Hon’ble State Minister for Health, Dr Surendra Kumar Yadav; Chairperson, Nepal Netra Jyoti Sangh; Regional Chair, International Agency for Prevention of Blindness; distinguished partners, both local and international; ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to address you as we celebrate Nepal’s elimination of trachoma as a public health problem. Your accomplishment is truly remarkable.

By achieving this outcome you have spared hundreds of thousands of people from blindness. You have extended access to core public health goods such as improved sanitation and hygiene. And you have brought ever more people into the health system’s orbit, helping secure society-wide buy-in to the services it offers.

Your elimination of trachoma as a public health problem is an achievement to be immensely proud of. Not only does it speak to your enduring sense of mission; it also underscores the wisdom of WHO’s SAFE strategy for trachoma elimination.

More broadly, it demonstrates that with the right tools and strategies every country in the Region can finish off key neglected tropical diseases – one of our Flagship Priority Areas of work.

So I extend my warmest congratulations to everyone here, both for positively impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people country-wide, as well as providing an inspiring example to other countries in the Region striving to eliminate trachoma and other neglected tropical diseases.

When I consider what you have achieved, there are two key takeaways that are immediately apparent, and which must be seized on and applied elsewhere.

The first is the need for Member States to focus resources on hard-to-reach, neglected or marginalized populations. When in 2002 Nepal launched the National Trachoma Programme, you knew that there were 20 districts in which the disease was endemic. Accordingly, these districts were targeted with preventive mass drug administration, surgical outreach for advanced cases and initiatives to mitigate environmental risks. As your success demonstrates, this basic – though very practical – approach, achieved strong results.

The second is the utility of a finely tuned surveillance system that can gauge programme efficacy and target resources accordingly. The Nepal Netra Jyoti Sangh, alongside other partners, played a crucial and very innovative role in providing surveillance infrastructure, overseeing the conduct of trachoma surveys from the very beginning and ensuring that both human and financial resources were efficiently utilized and managed. It was these surveys, and the leadership the organization provided at the national level and among international partners, that prepared the ground for validating Nepal’s elimination of the disease as a public health problem.

I am pleased to note that owing to the steady, methodical and rigorous implementation of these strategies, Nepal is the first country in the Region to achieve this outcome.

I am also pleased to note that WHO has been a steadfast ally in your quest to do so. I commend the efforts of Country Office colleagues for the technical and operational support they have provided, and for their commitment to working with partners at all levels, from the Ministry of Health down to local NGOs and community-based organizations.

Your Excellency, distinguished partners and guests,

Though trachoma remains the cause of blindness or visual impairment of about 1.9 million people in dozens of countries across the world, Nepal is no longer one of them. That is a great achievement. I once again commend all present for your perseverance and resolve, and for the technical and strategic excellence you have demonstrated. I trust that Nepal’s elimination status will be maintained through continued surveillance for the disease – a critical imperative.

Indeed, I look forward to Nepal’s ongoing success, including in its battle against lymphatic filariasis and visceral leishmaniasis. Both diseases are now on the verge of elimination thanks to your dedication to advancing the health and well-being of all people, especially the poor and often marginalized.

I once again commend all Nepalese for making Nepal the first country in the Region to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem and wish you an enjoyable, well-earned celebration.

My congratulations to the Deputy Prime Minister for his high level of commitment to health issues, the State Minister of Health, the department of health, and Nepal Netra Jyoti Sangh for their continued perseverance, as well as the wider community for their cooperation in making this happen.

Thank you very much.