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Plateau, Nasarawa interrupt river blindness

Up to 2 million people across Plateau and Nasarawa will no longer take ivermectin for river blindness this year after transmission of the disease was declared interrupted.

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The decision to stop mass drug administration of ivermectin came after over 6,000 people and 18,000 black flies—which transmit river blindness—were tested and found free of the infection.

The testing confirmed treatment could be stopped, announced the Atlanta-based Carter Centre, which has been supporting treatment for river blindness for the past 25 years.

“River blindness has burdened Nigerians since the days of our ancestors,” said health minister Isaac Adewole.

“With the support of The Carter Center and other important partners, we are lifting this burden. What we need to do is complement this good work with careful surveillance to be sure the infection does not reoccur.  In that way we can put river blindness into the dustbin of history.”

At least four in 10 cases of river blindness anywhere in the world is in Nigeria.

Stopping the mass drug administration programme is a “major achievement”, said Frank Richards, director of Carter Centre’s River Blindness Elimination Programme.

“But we must be careful to monitor closely over the next few years to be assured that it does not come back.  This will require continued effort and perseverance,” he warned.

Pharmaceutical firm Merck has donated millions of its Mectizan brand of ivermectin over the last 20 years to support elimination of river blindness.

Yao Sodahlon, director of the Mectizan Donation Programme, called the interruption “an unprecedented historical moment” in elimination of river blindness.

“This will be not only a first for Nigeria,” Sodahlon said. “It is the largest ‘stop MDA decision’ in the history of the struggle against onchocerciasis [or river blindness].”

Programme to eliminate river blindness goes on in Abia, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, and Imo.

The disease is caused by a parasite carried in black flies, which breed in rapidly flowing rivers and streams. It causes intense itching, skin discoloration, rashes, and eye disease that often leads to permanent blindness.

Ending the transmission is the latest public health success for Nigeria’s partnership with Carter Centre.

It stopped transmission of Guinea worm in 2008, leading to Nigeria being certified free of the disease in 2013.

Trachoma has been eliminated as a public health problem in Plateau and Nasarawa.

Last October, the Nigeria-Carter partnership announced lymphatic filarisis, which causes disfigurement, had been eliminated as a public health problem in Plateau and Nasarawa.

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