Fighting Disease: Ethiopia
River blindness is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of small black flies that breed in rapidly flowing streams and rivers. The disease causes severe itching, eye damage, and often blindness but is preventable through health education and distribution of the medicine Mectizan®. Learn more about the Carter Center's campaign to eliminate river blindness from the Americas and to control it in Africa >
Onchocerciasis, commonly known as river blindness, was first reported in southwestern regions of Ethiopia in 1939, while the northwestern part of the country was recognized to be endemic in the 1970s.
After the government of Ethiopia created a national plan to fight onchocerciasis in 1999, The Carter Center was invited to start fighting onchocerciasis in Ethiopia in 2000. Today, the Center's River Blindness Program continues to work in partnership with Ethiopia's Ministry of Health, Lions Clubs International Foundation, as well as a consortium of international agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private companies.
Also in 2000, the National Onchocerciasis Task Force was established by Ethiopia's Ministry of Health with a mission to: mobilize and educate onchocerciasis-endemic communities; coordinate Mectizan® tablet procurement (donated by Merck) and distribution and coordinate all partners in the program. Mobilization efforts began in 2000 in the Kaffa and Sheka zones of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region. The Carter Center and the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) play a critical role in supporting the Mectizan distribution program in these areas. The program went on to expand into other areas, doubling treatments each year until reaching scale in 2004.
In partnership with the Ministry of Health and APOC, The Carter Center now assists program activities in eight of the 10 endemic zones in the country: Bench Maji, Gambella, Illubabor, Jimma, Kaffa, Metekel, North Gondar, and Sheka. Since 2009, more than 3 million people have been treated annually in more than 14,300 targeted villages in the Carter Center-assisted zones, composing nearly 70 percent of all treatments given in Ethiopia. These treatments are assisted by more than 40,000 trained community volunteers, who also provide health education in the villages treated.
The Carter Center's activities in Ethiopia use pioneering, integrated approaches to address multiple diseases simultaneously, saving time and money to reinforce health education and other interventions. The Center combines prevention activities for malaria, trachoma, and river blindness.
In addition, since 2009, with support from GlaxoSmithKline, The Carter Center has been assisting the Ethiopia Ministry of Health to launch a lymphatic filariasis elimination program in the Gambella region. The first of its kind in Ethiopia, the Carter Center-supported program has administered more than 235,000 combined Mectizan/albendazole treatments for lymphatic filariasis elimination in onchocerciasis-endemic areas as of 2011.