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Eradication Of River Blindness In Africa Is Feasible

In this AlertNet opinion piece, Simon Bush, director of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) at Sightsavers, an international NGO helping people with visual impairments in developing countries, examines efforts to rid Africa of onchocerciasis — a blinding NTD. “In 1947 when Sightsavers’ founder, Sir John Wilson, coined the phrase river blindness to describe the almost unpronounceable disease, … there was little choice for those living in areas where what we now call a neglected tropical disease was endemic,” he writes, adding, “Today, although the World Health Organization estimates that 120 million people are at risk of river blindness, there is hope.”

“For the last 25 years, drug distribution programs to treat river blindness have been established across most endemic countries, and community-based distribution systems are used to ensure people receive an annual dose” of the drug ivermectin, he writes. He continues, “However the real hope comes through evidence from the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC),” which “shows that elimination of the disease as a public health threat by the end of 2012 in regions in Uganda, Nigeria and Mali should be feasible.” Bush describes Sightsavers’ 10-year plan to target areas for disease elimination and praises the U.K. government for increasing its support for NTDs. Bush concludes, “Helping rid Africa of this parasitic disease would not just eliminate one of the NTDs but it would alleviate the impact of blindness in Africa by reducing those needlessly blinded by this disease, removing a serious obstacle to socio-economic development across the continent” (1/16).

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