The Government of Uganda has recently launched a health program to eliminate river blindness in the country. The implementation of a mass-drug administration initiative to combat this neglected tropical disease (NTD) is currently the work of President Yoweri Museveni.
Onchocerciasis, or river blindness is the world’s fourth leading cause of preventable blindness, infecting at least 37 million people living near the rivers and fast-moving streams of sub-Saharan Africa. It is spread through the bites of a small black fly that breeds in rapidly flowing waters along fertile riverbanks. This disease leads to visual impairment or blindness, skin disease, and debilitating itching. River blindness has devastating socioeconomic consequences, because it debilitates its victim and stunts economic capacity and development.
The health program to eliminate river blindness is being undertaken by the Ugandan Ministry of Health. It targets river blindness amongst children over five years of age in of Acholi, a region that for decades has been burdened by the disease. With this initiative there is a wave of new hope as the introduction of the new drug, Ivermectin has already begun to re-energize the government’s commitment to eliminate this deadly disease. President Museveni has also urged Acholi residents to “mercilessly” take the drugs, saying Uganda can, “wipe out this river blindness disease because it is not like HIV/Aids.” The river blindness initiative is tied to other health projects in the country, such as nodding disease, mass measles, and immunization programs.
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