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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

US Urges Taliban to Stay With Afghan Peace Talks

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs