In the Americas and parts of Africa, The Carter Center is a leader in the fight to eliminate a major cause of preventable blindness called river blindness (onchocerciasis).
A parasitic infection, river blindness is spread through the bites of a small black fly that breeds in rapidly flowing waters along fertile riverbanks. The disease can cause intense itching, eyesight damage, and often blindness. River blindness has an enormous economic impact, preventing people from working, harvesting crops, receiving an education, or taking care of children.
The Carter Center, whose river blindness program was established in 1996, assists 10 national ministries of health to wipe out the disease in Carter Center-assisted areas through health education and distribution of the medicine Mectizan®, donated by Merck. Mectizan kills the parasite's larvae in the human body, preventing blindness and transmission of the disease to others.
The Carter Center has distributed more than 170 million treatments of Mectizan through community-based channels to eliminate the disease.
Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas
In the Americas, river blindness has occurred in isolated areas in six countries: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela. The Carter Center's Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA) aims to interrupt transmission of the disease in the region within the next few years.
Today, with continued health education and treatment, no one in the Americas has to fear becoming blind from the disease.
In July 2013, Colombia publicly announced it became the first country in the Americas for World Health Organization verification of eliminating river blindness. Read the press release: Colombia Is First Country To Interrupt Transmission of River Blindness>
Mexico and Guatemala, formerly the region's two most endemic countries, have interrupted transmission of river blindness, halted Mectizan treatment, and begun their post-treatment surveillance. Ecuador, having completed its three years of post-treatment surveillance, has filed a request to WHO for a verification team visit.
Transmission of the disease remains only in the hard-to-reach border area between Venezuela and Brazil in the Amazon rainforest.
View illustration of disease cycle of river blindness,or onchocerciasis >
River blindness in Africa is widespread, accounting for more than 99 percent of remaining cases worldwide. In partnership with ministries of health, Lions Clubs International Foundation, USAID, and the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control, the Center assists ministries of health to eliminate river blindness in Uganda, and in areas of Ethiopia, Nigeria, and the Republic of Sudan.
||This river blindness statue, located on the Carter Center grounds, depicts a child leading a man with a stick. It was once common for children to lead blind adults around their communities.|
In Nigeria and Ethiopia, Africa's most populous and highly endemic countries, river blindness prevention is at the heart of pioneering approaches established by The Carter Center and its partners to use one community-based health education and drug distribution system to support the elimination of multiple diseases at once. The result is more time saved to reinforce other critical interventions such as health education, as well as savings in operational costs. Read more about disease program integration >
Download the Onchocerciasis Educational Flip Chart (PDF, Spanish) >
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|River Blindness (Onchocerciasis)|