River blindness breakthrough in Colombia

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River Blindness [Photo: WHO/Mark Edwards]

Colombia is the first country in the world to eliminate onchocerciasis, commonly known as river blindness. This parasitic disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of black flies common in river areas and is the second-leading infectious cause of blindness globally.

WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan, congratulated the Government of Colombia and urged it to "maintain vigilance to detect any future outbreaks" of the disease, which continues to spread in other Latin American countries.

Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which is WHO's Regional Office for the Americas, said Colombia's achievement is "an example of commitment, persistence, and integrated work". She also called for "redoubling efforts to eliminate the disease" in five other countries in the region namely, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela, which are working towards achieving the same goal.

A community of over 1,000 inhabitants in Naicioná, Colombia was the last target area for the elimination of the disease. The strategy was based on mass administration of the antiparasitic drug ivermectin, which was donated by a pharmaceutical company Merck. The inhabitants received the dose twice yearly for 12 consecutive years.

Beng Poblete-Enriquez, United Nations.

Duration: 1'01"

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