Reducing river blindness and lymphatic filariasis

River blindness and lymphatic filariasis are debilitating diseases caused by parasite infections. Our programme aims to eliminate them by giving medication to those at risk.

A boy and his father amid a fast-flowing river, where the black flies that carry the river blindness parasite like to breed.

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affect more than a billion of the world’s poorest people. Sightsavers, with additional funding from the UK government, is helping to eliminate two significant NTDs that cause both pain and disability.

River blindness and lymphatic filariasis are debilitating diseases caused by parasite infections. River blindness is transmitted via the bite of infected black flies. Infection leads to severe skin disease with unrelenting itching, visual impairment and blindness.

Lymphatic filariasis is transmitted via mosquito bite and affects up to 120 million people. Long-term infection causes painful disability, which can profoundly affect the lives of individuals, reducing their independence, productivity and mobility. The disfigurement and associated stigma and discrimination can have a devastating impact on the affected, their families and their communities.

people worldwide are blind because of river blindness
40 million
people are incapacitated because of lymphatic filariasis
The majority
of those affected by the diseases live in sub-Saharan Africa

How does the programme help?

While river blindness is transmitted by the black fly and lymphatic filariasis is transmitted by the mosquito, both diseases are caused by an infection of the filarial worm that can be treated with the same medication – Mectizan®. The World Health Organization recommends coordinating treatment for river blindness and lymphatic filariasis because the two diseases often appear together in communities.

By adding albendazole, a common de-worming medication, in areas where lymphatic filariasis is present, both diseases can be successfully treated together efficiently and cost-effectively.

The three-year river blindness and lymphatic filariasis programme supports country-led plans to deliver treatment to stop the transmission of infection and also stop the flies that transmit river blindness from breeding. The programme  also helps to manage the pain associated with lymphatic filariasis through patient care and treatment.

The programme in practice

Arjuna Socia, 33 years old, stands outside the Kibwoona Health centre in Masindi, Uganda where she attended the Volunteer Distributor Training for Community Directed Distributors. She is smiling and wearing a pink shirt.

Ajuna’s story

Ajuna has been volunteering as a drug distributor for five years, helping to dispense medication to prevent river blindness and LF. Read her story

Emmanuel walks through the fields outside his village, carrying his long white cane.

Emmanuel’s story

Meet 60-year-old Emmanuel, who lost his sight while earning a living as a fisherman. How? Because of a disease called river blindness. Read his story

District onchocerciasis co-ordinator William Mugayo and Ugandan Secretary of Health Titus Ariyo discuss the mass drug administration project during a radio broadcast with DJ Robert Musasizi.

How radio is saving lives

In remote regions of Uganda, radio broadcasts are being used to spread information about diseases such as lymphatic filariasis. Read more

Where does it operate?

Sub-Saharan Africa carries almost the entire global burden of both of these NTDs. One of the unfortunate outcomes of the diseases is that people are forced to move away from fertile river valleys, where the diseases are prevalent, which means they struggle to find suitable areas to grow crops or farm, pushing families and communities into poverty.

The UK Aid logo, showing a union jack and the words: 'UK Aid: from the British people'.

Poverty is both a cause and consequence of the poor health caused by these diseases. This project targets men, women and children in these hard-to-reach communities. By contributing to the elimination of these debilitating diseases, Sightsavers, with help from the UK government, aims to develop healthy communities  where children no longer struggle with the health risks faced by their parents and grandparents.

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