Sightsavers is Fighting River Blindness in Cameroon

River blindness is a horrific disease. This disease can begin when a black fly bites a person. The black fly transmits microfilariae into the human body. These microscopic parasites begin to grow into worms that infect different parts of the body. The microfilariae often migrate to the eye. When they reach the eye, blindness is the result.

One of the nations that have the most cases of river blindness is the African nation of Cameroon. In the past, river blindness in areas with a high presence was tackled by large-scale preventive action. People in areas where river blindness is prevalent where given a drug called ivermectin. Ivermectin is used to kill the microfilariae that are introduced into the body by the black fly.

While this should in theory greatly reduce the number of river blindness incidents, several people were still being diagnosed with the disease each year. The ivermectin treatments weren’t working on their own.

Sightsavers is testing a different approach to handling the river blindness problem in Cameroon. In some areas, the group is trying what is called a test and treat program.

In this program, all of the people in an area are tested each year to see if they have microfilariae in their bloodstream. Those that have the parasite in their blood are then offered treatment.

The treatment that Sightsavers is using under this test and treatment protocol is treatment with the antibiotic doxycycline. Doxycycline is in the tetracycline family of antibiotics. Patients are given doxycycline every day for a period of four weeks. After the four weeks of treatment is completed, the patient is retested to make sure that the patient is completely clear of the infection. If just one trace of microfilariae is still left in the bloodstream, a full-blown case of river blindness can manifest. Those not completely clear will continue on the drug until such a time as there is complete elimination.

This is not the only test that is being conducted to try to eradicate the problem of river blindness. In another test, the ivermectin program is being intensified. Instead of giving people one dose of ivermectin each year, people are given two doses. The hope is that this will clear all microfilariae.

In addition to these programs, the governmental authorities in Cameroon are taking control measures against the black fly. If the black fly can be controlled, the vector for disease transmission is halted.

Black fly breed in damp habitats. The government is now spraying the places where black fly are known to breed with larvicides that hinder the black fly growth cycle preventing the larvae from growing into adults that bite and spread disease.

These tests will be carried out for a two year period. After that time, the programs will be assessed for their effectiveness. The goal of the Cameroon government and Sightsavers is to completely eradicate river blindness from Cameroon by the year 2025.

The knowledge gained from the test programs in Cameroon will be beneficial in deciding how best to combat river blindness in the other nations where the disease is a major problem.