By Confidente Reporter
THE African continent is making inroads in the fight against river blindness disease (onchocerciasis), among other Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
This is according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), following the 20-year successful implementation of the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC).
Since the introduction of the APOC, there has been a reduction in intensity of this major infectious cause of blindness in Africa, which has allowed the WHO to shift the goal from control to elimination. In a recent media statement, the global health body indicated that for more than 40 years, it has worked to control onchocerciasis, and about 30 years ago, it received a major medication donation from pharmaceutical company, Merck & Co, which has propelled the onslaught against the disease forward. “The unprecedented donation of medication, combined with an innovative distribution mechanism from the WHO, was protecting more than 110 million people annually in 19 countries, by 2015, when the APOC program closed. It prevented over 40 000 cases of blindness every year, between 1995 and 2015,” the statement said.
“The WHO Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) is committed to the elimination of river blindness and other NTDs.
“The distribution mechanism, based on a community directed treatment with ivermectin (CDTI), has been adapted, and is now broadly used to distribute medicines through the new Expanded Special Project for the Elimination of NTDs (ESPEN).”
According to the WHO, this ambitious project is working with member states, to reach WHO’s 2020 targets for the control and elimination of five curable NTDs by regular mass medicine administration (MMA).
The organisation notes that Africa is unfortunately home to an estimated 47 percent of the global burden of all NTDs. The region carries the highest global burden of Buruli ulcer, Guinea worm disease, human African trypanosomiasis, river blindness and yaws.
NTDs affect the poorest communities in Africa, some of whom live on less than US$2 (N$26.16) per day.
They cause disability, disfigurement, stigma, poverty, and have detrimental effects on school attendance and child development, agriculture and economic productivity. “The fight against river blindness is recognised today as a public health problem that is under control, given that there are no new cases of blindness in communities under treatment, and there has been a drastic reduction in skin disease caused by infection.” WHO further indicated that the remaining challenge for the ESPEN and member states is to achieve transmission interruption and the complete elimination of onchocerciasis. This has already been achieved in some focus areas in Uganda, Senegal and Mali, with further eliminations also suspected to have taken place in Burundi, Malawi and Nigeria. “The complete elimination of NTDs can be within reach, with a strong and sustained investment by the member states, NGOs and partners, in the effective distribution of donated medications, from national down to community level.”
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