Onchocerciasis and Chagas disease eradication yields results

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Launched in 1987, the Mectizan Donation Program for the treatment of onchocerciasis (river blindness) in Africa and Chagas disease in Latin America, is a textbook example of success. More than 530 million treatments have already been distributed, and each year, over 40,000 cases of blindness are prevented worldwide.

Onchocerciasis is caused by a worm that enters the body via a bite from a small simulium fly that lives near rivers. Its larvae develop in waterfalls and rapids – hence the name “river blindness”.

Chagas disease, on the other hand, is transmitted by a different type of insect: triatomines. Infection can remain dormant for decades but can eventually lead to complications, with disabilities and even death.

The eradication program is the product of an exemplary public-private partnership: governments from over 30 countries, 13 NGOs and MSD laboratories.

Up to now, 33 countries in Africa, Latin America and also the Yemen have benefited from this donation program, the longest-running in history.

And the results match the investment.

Combined with antivectoral measures, the fight against onchocerciasis has led to a 17% increase in economic development in Africa with 35 million hectares of arable land being returned to farming which had previously been abandoned as unhealthy.

Another “collateral” benefit of the program has been improved access to other health services such as distribution of vitamin A, of insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets, and eye care …

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