Fighting Disease: Colombia
Eliminating Onchocerciasis From the Americas
Current Status: Onchocerciasis eliminated
Verification Status: Elimination verified in 2013
From 1996 until 2006, The Carter Center and its partners assisted the Colombia Ministry of Health and Social Protection to distribute doses of the drug Mectizan®, donated by Merck to prevent river blindness in the nation's lone endemic community, Naicioná, also known as the López de Micay focus.
Starting in 1996, the community-based program paired mass drug administration with health education and community participation to eliminate the disease. These efforts were successful in 2006, when the cycle of disease transmission was broken after 23 consecutive treatment rounds reaching 85 percent or more of the at risk population.
The following year, health education continued, but Mectizan treatments were halted and ministry officials announced Colombia had become the first country to interrupt river blindness transmission through health education and Mectizan treatments alone (without the use of aerial insecticide spraying).
In 2011, after completing its national, three-year post-treatment surveillance period, Colombia became the first country to request verification of onchocerciasis elimination from the World Health Organization, the world`s only agency that can officially verify or certify a disease eliminated or eradicated.
In July 2013, Colombia publicly announced it had become the first country in the Americas to become verified as having eliminated river blindness.
Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism
In 2013, the Carter Center's Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism, in partnership with the Universidad de La Sabana, began awarding two fellowships each year to journalists in Colombia. The program was established in support of Colombia's efforts to raise awareness of mental illnesses, which are among the most under-recognized health conditions in the nation, often characterized by stigma and misinformation.
The fellowships will develop a cadre of better informed print and electronic journalists who more accurately report information on topics relating to mental health and influence their peers to do the same.
Those fighting river blindness faced treacherous conditions in their efforts to provide Merck-donated Mectizan® and other medical supplies to isolated endemic areas of Colombia. (Cedit: Carter Center)