Lion help Hault the Transmission of River Blindness

Ecuador has become the second nation in the Americas to halt the transmission of onchocerciasis, according to a press release from the Carter Center, the Atlanta-based sponsoring agency for the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program in the Americas.

The Onchocerciasis Elimination Program in the Americas is a community-based partnership that includes volunteers in the endemic countries of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela and has the support of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pan American Health Organization, the Pan American Health and Education Foundation, Merck, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lions Clubs International Foundation, the release said.

Acting under a resolution by the Pan American Health Organization, the program has sought to end transmission of river blindness in these six endemic countries by 2012 through health education and the semiannual mass distribution of the anti-parasite drug Mectizan (ivermectin, Merck).

The Ministry of Health has been providing ivermectin to patients in the northern part of Ecuador’s Esmeraldas Province since 1990. In 2008, 27,372 ivermectin treatments were administered to more than 16,000 people there, after which epidemiological studies showed that the transmission of the parasite had been stalled.

Colombia was the first of the six nations to break the transmission of onchocerciasis in 2008.

“With only four countries remaining endemic, it’s critical that elimination efforts and health education are intensified elsewhere in the Americas to reach the regional goal and to avoid future suffering,” Frank O. Richards Jr., MD, director of the Carter Center’s River Blindness Program, said in the release.

In order for the World Health Organization to confirm that the parasite has been eliminated, a 3-year surveillance phase will begin in Ecuador this year to ensure that infection does not reoccur in the absence of ivermectin distribution.