Fighting Disease: Ethiopia
Eliminating River Blindness
Onchocerciasis, or 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.
In 2000, The Carter Center was invited to help implement Ethiopia's national River Blindness Elimination Program. The Center continues to assist the national program, in partnership with Lions Clubs International Foundation, Lions of Ethiopia, and other international, nongovernmental, and private organizations.
In 2012, the Ethiopia Federal Ministry of Health, with encouragement from The Carter Center, the goal of interrupting transmission of the disease nationwide by 2020.The national program responded by increasing the frequency of Mectizan® treatment from annual to semi-annual though a staggered approach. As part of this plan, in 2012, The Carter Center and Lions Clubs International Foundation assisted the Ethiopian government in providing almost 4.9 million treatments, a 50 percent expansion of treatments from the previous year.
The Ethiopian Onchocerciasis Elimination Expert Advisory Committee was inaugurated in October 2014 with the support of The Carter Center and the Lions Clubs International Foundation. Representatives from the Federal Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Merck also attended the first annual meeting. Establishing this advisory committee was a monumental step toward nationwide elimination of river blindness in Ethiopia. More than 11 million treatments of Mectizan were distributed nationwide in 2014, and biannual treatments were achieved in most target areas for treatment.
The Carter Center's activities in Ethiopia have expanded to address multiple diseases simultaneously. For example, with support from GlaxoSmithKline, The Carter Center helped the Ethiopia Ministry of Health launch a lymphatic filariasis elimination program in the Gambella Region. The first of its kind in Ethiopia, the program has administered more than 235,000 combined Mectizan and albendazole (a drug donated by GlaxoSmithKline used to treat lymphatic filariasis) treatments for lymphatic filariasis elimination in onchocerciasis-endemic areas.