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International Coalition Urges Final Push to Eliminate River Blindness from the Americas


The Carter Center, PAHO/WHO and the Mectizan Donation Program of Merck & Co., Inc. known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, are part of a coalition of organizations helping countries in the Americas fight river blindness (onchocerciasis), and are calling for a final push to definitively eliminate transmission of the disabling disease from the Western Hemisphere.

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“Today, four of the six river blindness-endemic countries in the Americas have eliminated transmission of the disease, but I am not ready to celebrate until the task is complete,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, founder of The Carter Center, which has led the campaign to wipe out river blindness in Latin America through its Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA). “Now is not the time to be complacent. It is the time to increase our efforts.”

Onchocerciasis is a parasitic disease carried by biting black flies that breed in fast-flowing rivers and streams. It can cause intense itching and skin damage, nodules, eye damage, and eventually blindness. The disease disproportionately affects low-income communities in several Latin American countries and in Africa, contributing to the cycle of poverty by reducing affected individuals’ ability to work and learn. In the late 1990s, an estimated 500,000 people in six endemic countries of the Americas were at risk of onchocerciasis.

“River blindness can be controlled and even eliminated when countries mobilize the necessary political will and receive strong support from international partners,” said Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). “Today we are calling for renewed resolve in our joint efforts so we can finally rid our hemisphere of this disabling disease forever.”

For more than two decades, elimination efforts undertaken by the endemic countries and coordinated by the Carter Center’s Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA) have reduced the number of people at risk of onchocerciasis to just over 25,000. In 2013...