Fighting Disease: Nigeria
River blindness is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of small black flies that breed in rapidly flowing streams and rivers. The disease, which causes severe itching, eye damage, and often blindness, can be prevented through health education and Mectizan® distribution. Learn more about the Carter Center's campaign to eliminate river blindness from the Americas and to control it in Africa >
Nigeria is the most endemic country in the world for river blindness, 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 2011, the Carter Center-assisted program in Nigeria provided health education and Mectizan treatments to more than 6 million people in nearly 10,000 villages.
With headquarters in Jos, Plateau state, and with supporting suboffices in Lagos, Owerri, Benin City, and Enugu, the Carter Center's River Blindness Program assists treatment activities in nine states in Nigeria: Abia, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Imo, Nasarawa, and Plateau states.
The nine states assisted by The Carter Center conducted training or retraining for nearly 68,600 health workers involved in Mectizan distribution in 2011. In the southeast states, nearly 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, is actively involved in promoting 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, totaling more than 5.1 million naira (or approximately US $33,093) in 2011.
The Carter Center's activities in Plateau and Nasarawa states are unique. Using an integrated approach, the Center has targeted three diseases that can be controlled by communitywide treatment: onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, and schistosomiasis. This approach makes it possible to provide medicine distribution and health education for more than one disease using the same program structure, resulting in an operational cost savings of approximately 41 percent over the stand-alone distributions.
This initiative has proven to be a successful strategy and is inspiring other programs within The Carter Center and in other organizations to integrate efforts.
Read the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene article: A Longitudinal Study of Impact of Repeated Mass Ivermectin Treatment on Clinical Manifestations of Onchocerciasis in Imo State, Nigeria (PDF) >