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article imageGuatemala eliminates river blindness

By Tim Sandle     Oct 1, 2016 in Health
Guatemala has become the fourth country in the Americas to eliminate river blindness disease. The announcement represents tough action by national and international bodies.
The disease onchocerciasis (river blindness) has been declared ‘eliminated’ from Guatemala by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Guatemala’s minister of health, Dr. Lucrecia Hernandez Mack. The announcement was made on September 29, 2016. With the news, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the charitable organization he founded — The Carter Center (a non-profit organization) — have congratulated President Jimmy Morales and the people of Guatemala.
River blindness disease is caused by a parasitic worm (the filarial worm Onchocerca volvulus), which is spread via the bites of Simulium black flies. The flies inhabit rivers, which gives the disease its common name. The effects of the disease are itching and eye-damage. Untreated, blindness can occur through the effects of eye-damage. The disease incubates in the body, manifesting as nodules and skin pigmentation in later years.
In a statement President Carter said: “Guatemala deserves enormous credit for its 100-year struggle against river blindness. It was the great Guatemalan researcher Dr. Rodolfo Robles, who discovered onchocerciasis in the Americas in 1915.”
President Carter called out the work of health workers, community educators and program leaders in acting together to eradicate the disease. The activities have been supported by The Carter Center’s Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA.)
The eradication is significant since Guatemala accounted for around 40 percent of people at risk for onchocerciasis in the Americas. Other countries that have successfully eliminated the disease are Colombia (in 2013), Ecuador (in 2014) and Mexico (in 2015). The success in Mexico was featured on Digital Journal.
Two other countries in the Americas are affected by the disease, albeit in small communities (such as with the indigenous Yanomami people). The countries are Venezuela and Brazil. Other regions of the world are also at risk from onchocerciasis, including parts of Africa. Back in the late 1990s, some 660,000 people in the Americas were at risk of onchocerciasis in six countries. This highlights the effectiveness with the current progress to eradicate the disease.
More about River blindness, Parasites, Guatemala, Onchocerciasis
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