- The UN’s World Health Organisation study carried in Senegal and Mali has revealed that onchocerciasis (river blindness) could be eliminated using drugs.
The studies showed treatment with the drug ivermectin stopped further infections and transmission of the disease in three areas of Africa. The river blindness affects some 37 million people worldwide.
Scientists from the World Health Organisation who studied three areas in Mali and Senegal found that after 17 years of treating the entire community with the drug ivermectin, few infections remained.
Reports said people in Africa, where 99 percent of infections occur in poor rural settings, had been given free treatments of ivermectin since its development in 1987 by drug manufacturer Merck.
But the World Health Organisation said ivermectin only kills the larvae, not the adult worms, which cause the disease, recommending annual or biannual treatments should be given to people living in vulnerable African communities to keep the disease in check.
According to WHO, the treatment was stopped in the three test areas in Mali and Senegal and follow-up assessments between one-and-a-half and two years later showed no further infections or transmissions of the disease.
"Although further studies are needed to determine to what extent these findings can be extrapolated to other areas in Africa, the principle of onchocerciasis elimination with ivermectin treatment has been established," the WHO said in a statement.
River blindness, is transmitted by the black fly, which breeds in rivers. It is a major cause of blindness and also causes debilitating skin disease.
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