You live near a river. It’s where you get your drinking water, your bathing water, and water to wash your clothes.
You rely on it for everyday life, but it’s putting you and your family at risk from painful and potentially blinding diseases.
What can you do? Here are your choices: You could move away, but you’ll lose access to your water source and the fertile land where you grow crops and raise livestock. Or you could stay, but you might start to feel the intense and unbearable itching in your skin that’s a symptom of river blindness, and if it spreads to your eyes it could eventually make you blind.
This was exactly the choice faced by Mamadou, who lives in Moyenne Guinea, where most people are farmers. He lives close to the river – it’s the most high-risk location for contracting river blindness, because the black fly which transmits the disease breeds near fast-flowing water. Often, communities flee their homes when river blindness has taken over, losing their livelihoods, reducing their access to water and leaving behind ghost towns of abandoned homes and farms.
For Mamadou, there turned out to be a third choice. He was bitten by a black fly and his skin started to itch, but at a weekly market in the village (one of the main communication channels for the community) he heard about Mectizan® treatment, which controls the disease and prevents it progressing. After treatment, Mamadou’s sight loss halted, and the itching stopped. He made sure his wife and children were treated too, to prevent them from the pain he’d experienced.
The whole community now takes the treatment annually (it’s usually around 10 to 15 years before the risk of infection is eliminated), meaning river blindness no longer threatens their lives and incomes. Since the control program has been operational in the village, there have been no new cases of river blindness.
So where there could have been another ghost town, there’s now a thriving community. And the cost? £28 to treat the entire community.
There are a lot of communities like Mamadou’s that still only have two bad options to choose from. They haven’t been reached with Mectizan® treatment – yet. We have all the medication stocks, and in 2012 alone we treated 35 million people, but there’s still more work to do to distribute treatment to everyone who’s at risk.
£28 will help us keep another community – that’s up to 400 people – from having to choose between illness or abandoning their homes. Can you chip in?