The end of river blindness?
people are already infected. The vast majority of cases (99 per cent) occur in Africa with Sightsavers distributed the drugs to infected over 30 endemic countries on the continent.
communities by trained village volunteers who More than 300,000 people have already gone hand out the treatment locally. Last year the development charity helped to protect over23 million people across 13 African countries.
Without such control programmes it is “ Hope arrived exactly 25 years
estimated that a further 40,000 people would ago, when it was discovered
River blindness is a crippling disease that has robbed the sight of millions in
that the drug ivermectin could
Africa – but there is hope on the horizon. Claire Diamond, of the development
be used to protect people from
charity Sightsavers, reports
river blindness”
once or twice a year for 15 to 17 years,ivermectin (brand name Mectizan®) can help control the disease. It does this by killing the It is a disease that was once remorseless in its the skin throughout the body and into the Hope arrived exactly 25 years ago, when it larval stage of the parasite (the medicine does spread throughout river-based communities in eye, causing symptoms such as severe itching, was discovered that the drug ivermectin could not kill the adult worm, which continues to skin de-pigmentation and blindness. It was produce larvae after mating). At the beginning then, and is still, a major cause of blindness in But new research co-authored by Sightsavers west and central Africa. The most severely Merck & Co. Inc (known as MSD in the UK) research it had co-authored further supported affected communities would often flee the pledged to donate the drugs for free for as eliminated in parts of Kaduna State in Nigeria.
This is a huge milestone on the road toridding Africa of this debilitating disease,which puts 120 million people at risk of “ Globally it is estimated that 120
million people are at risk from
The river blindness story
river blindness, and 37 million
Sightsavers has worked in Africa for nearly 65 people are already infected”
years, dating back to when the charity’sfounder, Sir John Wilson, visited Ghana as partof an official delegation with the British River blindness is one of 17 diseases known as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Together,these parasitic or bacterial infections are Whilst in Ghana, he coined the term river believed to affect one billion of the poorest blindness to describe the un-pronounceable and most vulnerable people in the world.
onchocerciasis: a devastating disease that wasrobbing people of their sight – and with it burden of disease that may be equivalent toone-half of sub-Saharan Africa’s malaria Rife among Africa’s riverside communities, it is transmitted by the simulium (black) fly which breeds in fast-flowing rivers. The parasite ispassed to human beings through the bite of Globally it is estimated that 120 million people 12-year-old Blessing Kure fetches water from the river near her home, which is known to
the fly. These parasitic worms then migrate to are at risk from river blindness, and 37 million be infected with flies causing river blindness. Sightsavers
The end of river blindness?
➜ In Nigeria’s Kaduna State, where the research The organisation is also looking to support imminently. Sightsavers also has plans to took place, river blindness had disappeared drug distribution programmes in countries support Ivory Coast and Angola in combating within the tested communities after almost transmission of the disease is a real possibility such as Democratic Republic of Congo, where across Africa. Evidence also shows that the elimination of the disease as a public health The end is in sight
“ Ridding parts of Kaduna state
threat in other regions in Nigeria, and parts of One of the main challenges is getting the With the elimination of the disease now a real Uganda and Mali, is possible by the end of treatment to remote communities. Sightsavers prospect, it was heartening to see the UK of river blindness shows that
has helped to pioneer the community-based Government recently increase its support for stopping the transmission of
distribution system which uses trained village the disease is a real possibility
volunteers to hand out the drugs at a local treatments to protect more than three million Organisation aims to stamp out river blindness level. Because of this, it costs just 5p for across Africa”
in a number of African nations by 2020.
Sightsavers to protect someone against river Sightsavers estimates this will be the case in blindness for a year. With such a cost-effective A high-profile conference, held at the end of This is great news for people like 12-year-old Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Togo and Benin.
model available for combating this disease the Blessing Kure from Ungwaku in Kaduna, who Foundation, united governments, charities, lives near a river in an area that is known to Ten years to wipe out river blindness
multilateral organisations and pharmaceutical have flies that cause river blindness. She lives Sightsavers has developed its own ten-year companies from the private sector to help with her extended family and they rely on the plan to help eliminate the disease in Africa.
They want to fundraise and invest more than One of Sightsavers’ community distributors is drinking, cooking and bathing, putting her at £27 million over the next decade, with the aim The event was co-hosted by the UK Coalition an incredibly high risk of contracting the of seeing annual treatments rise by about (religious leader) for his local community and disease. Unfortunately, the soil in her village 30 per cent to reach 30 million people a year.
uses his influence to ensure that people take founding member), and Sightsavers took part area cannot support wells for water, so the The money will also be used to train 150,000 in discussions about how to harmonise efforts drug is essential to keep her and her family on NTDs to achieve control and elimination.
He goes from village to village using ameasuring stick to check how many tablets Helping rid Africa of river blindness wouldn’t each person needs. Theirnoh was trained by a just remove a devastating disease, it would also local health worker to give advice on who can pave the way to real socio-economic progress.
and cannot take the medication, and when to go for further treatment. He says, “I do this world’s poorest communities a real fighting role for love of my work and love of this chance of proper socio-economic development.
The training of community distributors to support the distribution of Mectizan’® is the first step towards Sightsavers working inDemocratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Further information
Sightsavers aims to reach some of the 19.3 The report, ‘Impact of long-term treatment million people living in at-risk communities in of onchocerciasis with ivermectin in Kaduna State, Nigeria: first evidence in theoperational area of the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control’ is available at challenges mean that the DRC has received Thiernoh administers the drug Mectizan® to a young girl and her family.
little support in the past, but efforts will be scaled-up with treatment distribution starting

Source: http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/Documents/NB_76_River.pdf

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