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.
By: Linda Diep
For my Springbreak this semester, I had the opportunity to go on a public health service trip to MedLife, a nonprofit based in New York that provides sustainable healthcare solutions through mobile clinics to poverty-stricken areas in Peru, Ecuador, and Panama, our group saw an estimated 500 patients during our medical brigade.
During the week, we visited five different grade schools where we setup the clinics to address the basic health needs of the local people. We were accompanied by three physicians and a pharmacist, all natives of Ecuador. The clinics contained stations that volunteers rotated positions each day. One day, you would shadow the dentist and assist her in extracting teeth, while the next day you were at the pharmacy where you would cut pills and instruct patients on dosage and treatment.
We saw an average of 100 patients a day. Common ailments suffered by those coming through included Type 2 diabetes among the adults and malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, and burns and fungus due to the harsh climate among the children.
Present in the pharmacy was hookworm. Several of the child patients were prescribed albendazole by the internal medicine physician, however, worm infestation was not as prevalent among the population as the aforementioned health conditions.
The patients were very welcoming, and showed their appreciation through friendly handshakes, kind words, and gifts in the form of food. Age groups of patients spanned from infancy to about 15 years old, and 45 to 65 years old. One patient was as old as 91. Mostly women were seen.
My favorite station of the week was the vitals station. Each patient that came through had to stop at this station to document their weight, height, blood pressure, and temperature. Thus, I was able to talk to every individual that passed through that day. The conversations and small banter exchanged were very rewarding, and solidified the feeling that we were actually making an impact.
The trip reminded me that providing basic healthcare is a fundamental part of the continuum of care. Thus, it is essential to treat diseases such as NTDs which contribute to the cycle of poverty. To do your part, visit our Facebook.
Just this week the Ministry of Health and several other partners in the restated its dedication to eliminating river blindness in the Americas by 2012 and this announcement is an important step towards achieving that goal.
Onchocerciasis is transmitted by the bite of the black fly and a small, bite-transmitted worm parasite. This parasite, Onchocerca volvulus, causes skin irritation and can cause loss of sight. The illness is known as river blindness because the black flies breed in fast-moving bodies of water near affected communities. In order to break the disease transmission cycle, implementing organizations utilize the common practice of mass drug administration (MDA). In MDA programs, safe and affordable (often donated) drugs are distributed to entire communities several times a year. For onchocerciasis treatments, the Merck produced drug Mecitzan (ivermectan) is used at no cost. In the last twenty years over eight million doses have been distributed across the region in endemic communities.
OEPA is a regional collaboration that was started in 1993 by The Carter Center to treat the more than 500,000 people at risk for this disease across Latin America. The partnership includes the Pan American Health Organization (World Health Organization), the pharmaceutical company Merck, the Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF), Lions Clubs International Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The OEPA program targets the six Latin American countries (Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela) where onchocerciasis is still a public health threat. Originally there were seven countries on this list, but Colombia achieved transmission interruption in 2008. In light of this week’s announcement, this list will be shortened to only five countries.
With a growing interest in the potential for elimination of onchocerciasis from Africa, the success of the programs in the Americas provides an experience base that can guide the next phase of the onchocerciasis program in Africa.