Fighting Disease: Venezuela
Eliminating River Blindness From the Americas
In 2000, Venezuela had three onchocerciasis-endemic areas (North-Central, Northeast, and South) and became the last of the six original endemic countries to begin mass drug administration as part of a Carter-Center sponsored effort to eliminate the disease from the Americas. With health education and twice-per-year treatment with Mectizan® (ivermectin, donated by Merck) to at least 85 percent of the approximately 98,500 people at risk for the disease nationwide, two areas, North-Central and Northeast have interrupted river blindness transmission.
Today, the only remaining endemic area in Venezuela is along a remote and difficult-to-access southern area of the country, bordering Brazil. The migratory Yanomami people living along this border are exposed to the disease as they travel throughout the Amazon Rainforest. Special ongoing efforts are made to provide the Yanomami with the medicine and health education they need to help prevent river blindness.
Discovery of new communities in the area has continued to occur as the program zeroes in on this last endemic population. Between 2008 and 2013, 57 new communities have been discovered, and the program is working to consistently treat these communities. Evaluations in the Venezuelan South focus show that the percentage of the population with parasites in the skin has dropped from 27.6 percent in 2008 to 7.8 percent in 2013. A strong partnership between the Brazilian and Venezuelan governments remains a crucial factor in elimination of river blindness in the shared Yanomami area. At the 67th session of the World Health Assembly (held May 19-24, 2014) the Brazilian and Venezuelan ministers of health signed a formal agreement to coordinate the effort towards elimination along their border. Under this agreement they will also work with partners including The Carter Center's Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA), Merck's Mectizan Donation Program, and the World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization to reach this goal.
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Onchocerciasis life cycle poster used for health education among the nomadic Yanomami population living in Brazil and Venezuela. The Yanomami are severely affected by river blindness because their travel throughout the Amazon rain forest places them at continuous risk for exposure to the disease.