Momentum Builds Toward the Elimination of River Blindness in Africa
The Task Force for Global Health is supportive of a growing consensus among African health ministers that river blindness can be eliminated in Africa.
River blindness, or onchocerciasis, is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) that is endemic in 31 countries in Africa. Although the disease is disappearing, an estimated 120 million people are still at risk of river blindness on the continent.
In 1987, Merck & Co., Inc., (known as MSD outside the US and Canada) established the Mectizan Donation Program (MDP) at The Task Force for Global Health with a commitment to donate the anti-parasitic drug Mectizan for “as long as needed” to eliminate the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for the elimination of the disease by 2020 and many countries have formed national elimination committees to work towards that goal.
In September, Task Force, MDP leadership, and the WHO African Regional Office commemorated the 30th-anniversary of the donation of Mectizan at a luncheon attended by the ministers of health and others. During the meeting, the ministers of health from Cameroon, Nigeria, and Uganda voiced their support for a new World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution calling for the global elimination of river blindness.
According to MDP Director Yao Sodahlon, MD, a new WHA resolution calling for the elimination of the transmission of river blindness to replace the 1994 resolution calling for control of the disease will help reframe strategies and mobilize resources to end river blindness, where feasible, forever.
Sodahlon said the proposed resolution would emphasize the importance of surveillance and sustaining treatment with Mectizan® to ensure transmission of the disease continues to decline.
“A WHA resolution would help address innovations needed for last mile challenges [of disease elimination], and it would safeguard achievements made toward onchocerciasis control in Africa,” said Hon. Minister Sarah Achieng Opendi of Uganda.
River blindness is one of three NTDs that The Task Force is working to help eliminate within the next decade.