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Three-Day Meeting On Eliminating River Blindness Kicks Off In Nigeria

A three-day meeting of the WHO African Program for Onchocerciasis (River blindness) Control (WHO/APOC) opened in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, PANA/Afrique en ligne reports (12/8).

“It is the first time that Nigeria is hosting the annual session of the Joint Action Forum (JAF), the governing board, which comprises Health Ministers from 19 participating countries, representatives of 20 donor countries and institutions, 15 non-governmental development partners, U.N. agencies including UNICEF, UNDP the World Bank, as well as the African Development Bank and the pharmaceutical company, Merck,” according to a WHO press release (.pdf). “With five years to the projected attainment of the MDGs by 2015, the JAF session in Nigeria presents health Ministers with an opportunity to chart a way forward towards the elimination of river blindness as one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases, which cause reduction in agricultural productivity, exacerbate poverty and impede development.”

River blindness, a parasitic disease transmitted to humans through the bites of black flies, “is endemic in 30 African countries where 120 million people are at risk, including an estimated 31 million people in 31 of Nigeria’s 36 States as well as the Federal Capital Territory,” the release continues. The release explains how river blindness has been combatted in Nigeria with Community-Directed Treatment with Ivermectin (CDTI), a program that has helped treat more then 26 million people annually and reduced the prevalence of the disease (12/4).

In an address at the meeting from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan read by the country’s Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu, the president “noted that Nigeria had in the past three years contributed annually an average of US$5 million (mostly in overhead costs) to the implementation” of CDTI, PANA/Afrique en ligne notes. “Expressing ‘concern’ about APOC’s possible exit in 2015, President Jonathan urged the international community to ‘encourage APOC to continue as there is no other viable regional body with the experience, institutional memory and exposure to coordinate the control, elimination/eradication and management of onchocerciasis,'” according to the news service.

Luis Sambo, WHO regional director for Africa, also speaking at the meeting, said he looked forward to the session “as it will allow partners and the executing agency make informed decisions about the way forward for the programme after 2015,” he said (12/8).  

The meeting kicked off “with a donation of US$1 million to the programme’s Trust Fund by a Nigerian philanthropist and a survivor of the blinding disease, retired Army General T.Y. Danjuma,” who during his address to the session, described his personal experience with the disease, PANA/Afrique en ligne adds. Danjuma “urged Nigeria, which has [approximately] one-third of the total number of people at risk of river blindness in Africa, to donate handsomely towards … the elimination of the disease from Africa,” the news service writes (12/8).

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