News / Africa

Northern Sudan Set to Eliminate River Blindness

A laborer tends to a field in the Central African Republic, despite his affliction with river blindness, June 9, 2010.
A laborer tends to a field in the Central African Republic, despite his affliction with river blindness, June 9, 2010.
Jill Craig
River blindness may soon be a thing of the past in East Africa. 

Scientists believe a long-term community drug treatment in Abu Hamed, Sudan has eradicated this parasitic disease, which causes severe skin problems and in some cases, total blindness.

Abu Hamed is the world’s northernmost location of onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness. In 1998, residents of this Nile River town began a community-directed treatment program of ivermectin, a medication that stems the infestation of worms.

In 2012, treatment was halted after scientists found that following eight years of annual treatment and six years of semi-annual treatment, there was no evidence of the disease or its transmission around Abu Hamed.

Dr. Tarig Higazi, who was born and raised in Sudan, is a professor at Ohio University and lead author for the study. His team studied three primary onchocerciasis-endemic areas in Sudan and South Sudan

Higazi said that the findings from northern Sudan are significant.

“And we now prove that the disease is not transmitted. So there’s no more treatment in northern Sudan,” he said. “And hopefully, in a couple of years, we’ll be able to prove that the disease has been eliminated.”

The disease will be officially declared eliminated in Abu Hamed after three years of mandatory post-treatment surveillance are complete, in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines.

Higazi said that this is the first time river blindness appears to have been completely eliminated in a large remote area – with over 100,000 people at risk in Abu Hamed.

“It is very isolated, it’s far away from any other endemic areas, it’s in the middle of the Sahara Desert, basically, meaning that it’s only confined to the River Nile,” he said.

Onchocerciasis is transmitted by black flies that breed in fast-moving waterways. The flies serve as disease vectors, so when they bite humans, they deposit larvae under the skin that develop into adult worms.

As the worms grow under the skin, they cause severe itching and discomfort. In South Sudan, Higazi said, the disease more closely resembles the West African strain, where blindness occurs. 

But, not everyone with river blindness goes blind.

Higazi asserted that in Sudan, for example, people do not usually lose their eyesight from the disease. Instead, they may suffer from what locals call sowda, meaning that the limb appears completely black.

“And the interesting thing about the disease is that it was not a blinding disease. So, you barely see any blind people,” he said. “But, the skin reactions, there are very severe skin reactions, but basically there is no blindness.”   

Scientists from the Carter Center, a U.S.-based NGO focused on health, human rights, and democracy initiatives, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attribute the global progress in eliminating the disease to ivermectin, the de-worming medication.

Experts like Dr. Mark Eberhard, a senior microbiologist with the CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria, said that this medicine – all on its own, is a bit of a miracle worker. 

“Just to clarify and be really clear, that when given long enough, often enough and to a high percentage of the population, ivermectin can not only control the disease, but you can interrupt transmission,” he said.

According to the Carter Center, river blindness in Africa accounts for more than 99 percent of cases worldwide.

And within Africa, the World Bank estimates that more than 102 million people are at risk of the disease.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs