Category Archives: Onchocerciasis

Bill and Melinda Gates Bet on the Elimination of Guinea Worm, Elephantiasis, Trachoma and Onchocerciasis

 

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In their Annual Letter, Bill and Melinda Gates have one big bet: The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s.

Considering the tremendous progress made in the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), we couldn’t agree more. By advocating for the control and elimination of NTDs, the international community is making big strides to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people.

Just last year, 800 million people were treated for NTDs, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s NTD Program successfully delivered its one billionth NTD treatment. Echoing this momentum, NTD treatment continues to be recognized as a key tool for cutting extreme poverty. For example, the G7 and BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) recently made commitments to accelerate progress toward the global fight against NTDs.

NTDs are the most common affliction of the world’s poorest people, contributing to debilitating blindness, disfiguration and a number of harmful outcomes including school absenteeism, malnutrition and poor maternal and child health. This group of parasitic and bacterial infections is notorious for perpetuating poverty and undermining broader global development efforts. In order to end poverty and improve the lives of the poor, we must prioritize the control and elimination of NTDs.

In their annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates specifically call for the end of four NTDs: Guinea worm, elephantiasis, trachoma and onchocerciasis. They write:

“Destroying a disease utterly is a very difficult thing to do—so difficult, in fact, that it’s only happened once in history, when smallpox was eradicated in 1980. But if we keep working hard, we can eradicate four diseases by 2030. We can get polio out of Africa this year and out of every country in the world in the next several years. Guinea Worm, an incredibly painful disease whose sufferers spend months incapacitated while worms that can be several feet long burst out of their legs, will also be gone soon, thanks in large part to the leadership of President Carter and the Carter Center. We’ll also see the last of diseases like Elephantiasis, River Blindness, and Blinding Trachoma, which disable tens of millions of people in poor countries. The drugs that can stop these scourges are now being donated in huge numbers by pharmaceutical companies, and they’re being used more strategically thanks to advances in digital maps that show where diseases are most prevalent. Last year these free medicines were distributed to 800 million people.”

Bill and Melinda Gates’ important message injects new energy into the fight against NTDs. Their message is timely, following the recent appropriation by Congress of $100 million toward USAID’s NTD Program for FY 2015 and the launch of India’s ambitious campaign to treat more than 400 million people for elephantiasis, which if successful, could help India eliminate elephantiasis within the next few years and set a bold example for the world.

To read the full letter, click here. To read a statement from Dr. Neeraj Mistry, Managing Director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, click here.

Ecuador Becomes Second Country in the World to Eliminate River Blindness

 

With help from the Carter Center and the Pan American Health Organization, Ecuador has officially become the second country in the world to achieve elimination of onchocerciasis (river blindness).

To eliminate onchocerciasis in Ecuador, the country had to overcome a major obstacle — Simulium exiguum; the main vector in Ecuador is exceptional at transmitting the disease. Ecuador’s Ministry of Health had been distributing medication in the country since 1990 — halting distribution in 2010 after transmission of the disease was successfully interrupted.

Watch a video from the Carter Center to see how treatment reached some of the most remote communities in Ecuador:

Ecuador is the second country in the world to receive verification from the World Health Organization in eliminating onchocerciasis after Colombia in 2013. The next challenge being undertaken in the fight against onchocerciasis in the Americas is addressing the disease in the scattered and migratory Yanomani population who live in the border area between Venezuela and Brazil.

Read the Pan American Health Organization’s press release here.

South-South Cooperation Moves Forward to Free the Indigenous Yanomami People from Neglected Tropical Diseases

 

Photo by Shaan Hurley

Today marks the United Nations (UN) Day for South-South Cooperation — an opportunity for the global development community to examine how developing and emerging countries can share knowledge, exchange best practices and pursue joint projects to generate tangible solutions to development challenges.

As a young officer in the Ministry of Health of Argentina, I attended the first UN Conference on Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC) where I had the opportunity to witness the launching of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action, a blueprint adopted in 1978 that offered guidance and new energy to the concept of south-south cooperation. At the same time, the International Conference on Primary Health Care concluded with the Alma Ata Declaration — a public health milestone that recognized health as a fundamental human right.

It was an exciting time to be a part of these landmarks in public health and see how these principles are being carried out today. A closer look at Brazil and Venezuela’s joint commitment to controlling and eliminating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) within the Yanomami community —a nomadic indigenous tribe made up of approximately 35,000 people — spotlights the key role of south-south cooperation in reaching all populations in need of key health interventions. Equally important, this successful model can be replicated within the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region and across the globe.

The Yanomami territory is a remote stretch of tropical rainforests and mountains on the northern border of Brazil and southern part of Venezuela (approximately 19,000[1] people live on the Brazilian side and 16,000 on the Venezuelan side). The combined border area is over 9.6 million hectares — about twice the size of Switzerland — and represents the largest forested indigenous territory in the world. The entire community is affected or at risk for onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness.

The high prevalence of onchocerciasis  within the Yanomami community represents the last stronghold of this disease in the LAC region, which has made significant strides towards its elimination, in addition to controlling many other NTDs. Several countries across the region have either launched or implemented national plans to control and eliminate NTDs within their borders. In 2014, Colombia became the first country in the world to eliminate onchocerciasis. These successes underscore the strong political commitments made by regional leaders including the Organization of American States (OAS), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic (COMISCA).

While these are impressive milestones, more work needs to be done to address NTDs within the Yanomami community —  as the area occupied by the Yanomami is regarded as the greatest challenge for interrupting the transmission and making LAC an oncho- free region. Because of their nomadic habits plus their isolated and forested environment, health workers must travel by helicopter or boat to reach them. Many logistical and financial challenges need to be overcome to deliver the required series of treatments.

Here is how south-south cooperation can help address these challenges:

Brazil and Venezuela formalized and agreed to join efforts to tackle this problem in May 2014 during the 67th World Health Assembly. Through this commitment, these two countries will coordinate efficiently the provision of continuous integrated healthcare for affected communities in both Brazil and Venezuela. They will work together to train local community health workers and form bi-national humanitarian teams that will also include local residents to treat the last focus of onchocerciasis in the Americas through the development of integral  healthcare to affected communities on both sides of the border.

Furthermore, these teams will support the creation of a bi-national health model to provide work assistance for Brazil and Venezuela. A technical team of the Brazilian Ministry of Health is working with the Venezuelan Ministry of Health team in order to strengthen and integrate public policy to eliminate onchocerciasis in the Yanomami area.

By harnessing their collective experiences and expertise, I am confident that these countries can successfully work together to end the unnecessary suffering of the Yanomami population — and ultimately help the LAC region see the end of onchocerciasis.

Looking ahead, the post-2015 development agenda dialogue, the BRICS Ministers of Health meeting and the UN South-South Cooperation EXPO offer exceptional opportunities for government officials and development partners to showcase south-south cooperation as a critical, sustainable and successful model to address NTDs and other pressing global health and development challenges.


[1] According to Health Ministry of Brazil, in 2012, the Yanomami territory had 293 small villages that contain 4,550 families from five different ethnic groups, most of them Yanomami. There were 21 thousand of indigenous people living in this region, which 11,600 were located in endemic area.

New World Bank Video Shows an Amazing River Blindness Success Story

 

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To celebrate the remarkable progress made against river blindness (onchocerciasis) in Africa since the formation of a tremendous public-private partnership to combat the disease forty years ago, global partners recently gathered at World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC. Leaders poignantly spoke about how this country-owned, community driven effort — the World Bank’s first health project — carried out through the Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP) between 1974-2005, and the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) between 2005-present, is now reaching 100 million people in 31 countries annually thanks to bold visions, clear strategies and the collaboration of partners.

To coincide with OCP/APOC’s 40th anniversary, a new World Bank video narrates the unlikely story of how insecticide and Mectizan (ivermectin) — a pill donated by Merck for free for as long as needed — have transformed the lives of millions of people. Generating blindness, impaired vision and severe itching, among other effects, river blindness once devastated entire communities. The disease left people unable to farm for sustenance and a living, inhabit land in river valleys and take care of their families.

But, with insecticide sprayed by helicopters, and eventually the distribution of ivermectin in all affected countries, some areas are free of the disease. 25 million hectares of arable land — enough to feed 17 million people — are now freed up for use.

By 2025, we can eliminate river blindness in Africa and end the cycle of poverty caused by this horrific disease. But, we must continue to mobilize and pool resources, increase country leadership and integrate efforts to accomplish this goal.

Congratulations to all of the APOC partners fighting for a brighter, healthier future!

Make sure to watch the full video: