SIXTEEN students of a school in Tailevu have been diagnosed with trachoma, an eye disease known to be the cause of blindness if not treated properly.
Coincidentally, all these students are from the same village in Tailevu.
The school's headteacher, Autiko Domonakibau, said this was brought to their attention by a health team from Korovou Hospital a week ago.
"They told us that the children have trachoma and as teachers we have to ensure that the children wash their eyes three times a day," he said.
"I have been informed by the nurses that it could have been spread through water."
The Heath Ministry's national adviser for communicable diseases Dr Mike Kama says trachoma is an infectious eye disease caused by the bacteria chlamydia trachomatis.
"It manifests as watery and painful red eyes (conjunctivitis). Trachoma is categorised in five levels with permanent blindness comprising the fifth level," Dr Kama said last night.
"A survey on trachoma undertaken in 2012 and published in the Fiji Public Health Journal last year (2013) indicated the prevalence rate for trachoma in Fiji of 15 per cent.
"There are some technical aspects of the survey that the ministry is still considering prior to making a decision on the national intervention that should ensue to prevent and control trachoma in Fiji."
He said the infection caused a roughening of the inner surface of the eyelids and this roughening could lead to pain in the eyes, breakdown of the outer surface or cornea of the eyes.
Dr Kama said trachoma was spread through poor sanitation and dirty water but Fiji was fortunate to have ample clean water sources.
According to the Senior Divisional Medical Officer, Dr Ilisapeci Lasaro, water samples from the area have to be tested.
She said she would comment on the matter after being briefed by her staff members.
The school is, however, waiting for medicine promised last week.
Just three kilometres from the school is Dravuni Village, and according to the village headman Varinava Bola, the village water source was not the safest. Mr Bola said he was told by the school of the problem and he would be meeting parents to decide on the next course of action. He added apart from the children getting infected with trachoma, adults had experienced skin ailments.
AT A GLANCE
* Trachoma is spread by direct contact with eye, nose, and throat secretions from affected individuals, or contact with inanimate objects that carry infectious agents, such as towels and or washcloths, that have had similar contact with these secretions;
* Flies can also be a route of mechanical transmission; and
* Untreated, repeated trachoma infections result in entropion-a painful form of permanent blindness when the eyelids turn inward, causing the eyelashes to scratch the cornea.