Interviews shine a spotlight on how a blinding disease is being eliminated

March 2020
A community worker from Sightsavers' NTDs campaign.

Sightsavers experts have highlighted progress being made on river blindness in two media interviews.

The latest data on river blindness, a neglected tropical disease (NTD) that can lead to permanent sight loss, suggests treatment now reaches more at-risk people than ever before. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 151. 8 million people were treated in 2018, the vast majority in Africa. Around one in four of all those treated were reached by Sightsavers-supported programmes.

We could not have reached so many people without working closely with a diverse range of partners, including ministries of health, affected communities, local volunteers, other international organisations and the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co, which donates Mectizan®, the drug needed to treat river blindness, for free.

The website Medicine Maker features an interview with Simon Bush, Sightsavers’ director of neglected tropical disease, which examines how this collaborative partnership has resulted in treatment reaching record levels and will eventually lead to river blindness being eliminated.

Also shining a light on the global response to river blindness is the BioMed Central’s Bug Bitten blog, which this week features a guest post by Louise Hamill, senior NTD technical adviser at Sightsavers. Louise’s blog charts our long-standing contribution to combating river blindness. Sightsavers has been at the forefront of tackling NTDs for 70 years, as this archive footage from one of our first West African river blindness programmes shows.

Louise said: “Thanks to the high level of treatment coverage that has now been achieved, it is has become incredibly rare for new cases of vision loss caused by river blindness to occur.

“But more remains to be done, as around 217.5 million people are still at risk of river blindness – that’s more than three times the population of the UK. More than 99% of those at risk live in rural Africa.”

In 2019, WHO highlighted several areas to ensure progress on river blindness continues. These include distributing treatments through mass drug administration every six months instead of once a year where needed, and carrying out detailed mapping to identify every single at-risk area. Sightsavers is now working with partners to achieve these goals, as the world moves one step closer to eliminating river blindness.

A close-up of a plastic vial containing the flies that transmit river blindness.

What is river blindness?

River blindness, or onchocerciasis, is a parasitic infection spread by flies that live near fast-flowing rivers. It causes severe skin irritation, itching and, eventually, irreversible blindness.

More on river blindness

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