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Adv Parasitol. 2006;61:349-94.

Control of onchocerciasis.

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TDR, World Health Organization, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland.


Onchocerciasis is a filarial infection which causes blindness and debilitating skin lesions. The disease occurs in 37 countries, of which 30 are found in Africa (the most affected in terms of the distribution and the severity of the clinical manifestations of the disease), six in the Americas and one in the Arabian Peninsula. The latest WHO Expert Committee on Onchocerciasis estimated that in 1995 around 17.7 million persons were infected, about 270,000 of whom were blind and another 500,000 severely visually impaired. The disease is responsible for 1 million DALYs. Eye disease from onchocerciasis accounts for 40% of DALYs annually although severe skin disease is also recognized as of public health significance. Great progress has been made in the last thirty years in the control of onchocerciasis, both in Africa and the Americas, and this progress has been due largely to international public-private partnerships, sustained funding regional programmes, and new tools and technology. Landmarks in the global control of river blindness include the significant success of the Onchocerciasis Control Programme of West Africa (1975-2002), and the donation of ivermectin (Mectizan) by Merck & Co. Inc., in 1988, a medicine that is distributed to millions free of charge each year. Future major technical challenges of onchocerciasis control include ivermectin mass administration in areas co-endemic for the parasite Loa loa in the light of possible severe adverse reactions, ivermectin treatment in hypoendemic areas hitherto excluded from African control programmes, sustainability of ivermectin distribution, post-control surveillance for recrudescence detection, surveillance for emergence of resistance, and decisions of when to stop mass ivermectin treatments. There is the need to develop the appropriate information systems and diagnostic tools to help in accomplishing many of these tasks. A search for a second-line treatment or as an additional drug to ivermectin as well as a search for a macrofilaricide are issues that need to be addressed in the future.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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