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Fighting Disease: Nigeria


Controlling River Blindness

For additional information and updates on the following health programs, read the latest issue of Eye of the Eagle >

Nigeria is the most endemic country in the world for river blindness (onchocerciasis), accounting for as much as 40 percent of the global disease burden. It is estimated that up to 27 million Nigerians living in 32 endemic states need treatment for river blindness.

Since 1989, the Nigeria National Onchocerciasis Control Program has grown from treating 49,566 people with Mectizan® (ivermectin, donated by Merck) its first year in operation, to the world's largest Mectizan distribution program.

In 2012, the Carter Center-assisted program in Nigeria provided health education and Mectizan treatments to more than 6 million people in more than 8,100 villages.

With headquarters in Jos, Plateau state, and with supporting sub-offices in Lagos, Owerri, Benin City, and Enugu, the Carter Center's River Blindness Elimination Program assists treatment activities in nine states in Nigeria. Carter Center-supported training or retraining was conducted for more than 51,700 health workers involved in Mectizan distribution in 2012. In the southeast states, approximately 50 percent of community-directed Mectizan distributers were female.

A major Carter Center partner in Nigeria has been the Lions Clubs International Foundation SightFirst Initiative. Lions Clubs District 404, with Lions Clubs International Foundation support, promotes public awareness of the disease by advocating for onchocerciasis control, meeting with high-ranking officials to solicit support, and visiting communities where mass treatment is provided. In addition, significant portions of the health programming in participating villages are funded by the villages themselves.

In two states, The Carter Center uses an integrated approach to target three diseases simultaneously: onchocerciasis (river blindness), lymphatic filariasis, and schistosomiasis. Using the same program structure to provide medicine distribution and health education for more than one disease resulted in operational cost savings of approximately 41 percent over the stand-alone distributions. This successful strategy is inspiring other programs within The Carter Center and in other organizations to integrate efforts.

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Photo credit: Carter Center/ E. Miri
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In Nasarawa state, Nigeria, 35-year-old Zaki Baushe's job as a tailor was hindered by his poor eyesight caused by the parasitic disease river blindness. After Carter Center-supported health education and annual doses of the Merck-donated drug Mectizan® to treat river blindness, Baushe is now able to thread a needle and provide for his family.

Learn more about Zaki Baushe: Miracle Medicine Mends Nigerian Tailor's Eyesight >