Dan P Ewald,* Gillian V Hall,† Christine C Franks‡
* Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Remote Health, Flinders University, PO Box 4066, Alice Springs, NT; † Lecturer, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT; ‡ Educator, Health Development, Health and Community Services, Alice Springs, NT. dan.ewaldATflinders.edu.au
In reply: These letters reinforce a number of important points about control of trachoma (and other endemic infections) in Australia. The questions of whom and how often to treat need refining through Australian experience. Long-term control needs multifaceted, intersectoral collaboration to alter environmental and behavioural conditions against disease transmission. Strategies should be sustained, regional (large as practicable); acknowledging, and guided by, Aboriginal kinship networks; and recommend observed drug treatment (which was negotiated for the final treatment in our study). A non-uniform approach could include more frequent treatment in hyperendemic communities, probably leading to less net use of antibiotic treatment.
Reports from the Kimberley Population Health Unit show a very mixed picture, with wide year-to-year fluctuations in prevalence in many communities. While hyperendemic communities remain in a region, the prevalence of trachoma may increase unnoticed in communities no longer screened because their prevalence has dropped below 5%. If not looked for, it is unlikely to be noticed. Further analysis, such as the graph provided by Johnson and Mak, is to be applauded in the context of a thorough analysis. When this happens, it will greatly strengthen the case for active trachoma control in other regions.
For trachoma prevention, and for many other reasons, we believe environmental health interventions are critical. These remain difficult to evaluate given the high mobility of people in Aboriginal communities. Reliable, long-term, regional environmental health and mobility data are needed as part of this broad issue.
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