Onchocerciasis Elimination Program of the Americas
The Carter Center is the sponsoring agency for the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program of the Americas (OEPA), which works to end illness and transmission of onchocerciasis in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela. Headquartered in Guatemala, OEPA partners with the ministries of health of the six affected countries in Latin America, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, academic institutions, and independent organizations.
Diverse populations and ecosystems are affected by river blindness. In Guatemala and Mexico, the mestizo and indigenous populations who live on coffee plantations were the most at risk. The nomadic Yanomami of Brazil and Venezuela are some of the most severely affected groups as their travel throughout the Amazon rainforest — some of the only areas left in the Americas with active river blindness transmission — places them at continuous risk for exposure.
After more than a decade of disease prevention efforts in the Americas, today, the at-risk population has been reduced from more than half a million to approximately 376,000, and no one need fear becoming blind from the disease in the Western Hemisphere.
Carter Center Photos
|Local health workers, including these men, have dedicated countless hours to eradicating onchocerciasis in their communities.|
Semiannual Doses of Mectizan®
Since the disease is less widespread in the Americas than Africa, semiannual treatments with Mectizan® (ivermectin), donated by Merck, over many years can halt transmission of river blindness and improve health by reducing the presence of river blindness larvae in the human body.
Before OEPA started operations in 1993, only 41,911 treatments of Mectizan were administered throughout Latin America, vastly underserving the populations at risk. However, program efforts have increased distribution considerably.
After several years of monitoring and evaluation of the program, in 2001, the Carter Center's International Task Force for Disease Eradication confirmed that river blindness could be eliminated from the Americas by treating 85 percent or more of infected people with semiannual doses of Mectizan.
|A woman in an onchocerciasis-endemic area takes a dose of Mectizan®. Like the rest of her community, she will be spared a future of blindness from this debilitating disease.|
No New Blindness
Since 2003, the six endemic countries have maintained at least 85 percent treatment coverage, which must be sustained to halt transmission.
In 2008, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an urgent call to interrupt the disease's transmission by 2012. (Read the resolution, "Toward the Elimination of Onchocerciasis in the Americas (PDF).")
As of 2012, a total of 11 foci of the 13 endemic areas have interrupted transmission as a result of health education and Mectizan® distribution. There has been no new blindness from river blindness, and Colombia (2007) and Ecuador (2009) have become the first countries in the world to halt river blindness transmission. Mexico and Guatemala also have halted the cycle of river blindness transmission.
The program is focusing now on the remaining endemic areas of Brazil and Venezuela.
Thanks to these achievements, the Americas will soon free itself from the threat of this debilitating disease.
|River blindness has cost Pitasia Gonzales of Mexico her sight, but she is hopeful for her family's future. Read More >>|
Watch the video: A Life's Work - Rodrigo Lepe >
Read the feature: Jozefa Ortiz Rosa: Medication Restores Sight, Brings Hope to Grandmother >
Read the news story: As River Blindness Declines, Health Education Intensifies >
Read the press release: Ecuador Becomes Second Country in the Americas To Halt River Blindness Transmission Carter Center Hails Major Step Forward in Campaign To Rid Americas of Parasitic Infection by 2012; Urges Intensified Efforts in the Four Remaining Endemic Countries (English and En Español) >