The Carter Center is a leader in the fight to eliminate the debilitating parasitic infection river blindness — one of the major causes of preventable blindness in the world — in the Americas and where possible in Africa.
Spread through the bites of a small black fly that breeds in rapidly flowing waters along fertile riverbanks, river blindness (onchocerciasis) 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, currently assists national ministries of health in 10 countries in Africa and the Americas to conduct health education and distribute 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.
As of 2012, The Carter Center has distributed more than 170 million treatments of Mectizan through community-based channels to eliminate or control the disease.
Onchocerciasis Elimination Program of the Americas
In the Americas, where river blindness has occurred in isolated areas in six countries — Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela — The Carter Center is the sponsoring agency for the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program of the Americas (OEPA), which aims to stop transmission of the disease within the next few years.
View illustration of disease cycle of river blindness,or onchocerciasis >
River blindness in Africa is widespread, accounting for more than 99 percent of cases worldwide. In partnership with ministries of health, Lions Clubs International Foundation, and the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control, the Center assists ministries of health to control river blindness in Ethiopia and Nigeria, and to demonstrate that elimination of the disease is possible in Uganda and one area of 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.|
The River Blindness Program is at the heart of pioneering approaches in Nigeria and Ethiopia established by The Carter Center and its partners to use one community-based health education and drug distribution system to support the control or even elimination of multiple diseases at once. For example, in Plateau and Nasarawa states, Nigeria, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, and river blindness interventions are being integrated. The result is more time saved to reinforce other critical interventions such as health education, as well as savings in operational costs of about 40 percent. Read more about disease program integration >
Download the Onchocerciasis Educational Flip Chart (PDF, Spanish) >
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|River Blindness (Onchocerciasis)|