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Ophthalmologic Manifestations of Onchocerciasis

Background

Onchocerciasis, commonly known as river blindness, is a vector-borne disease that affects millions of people in Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central America. This disease is caused by the filarial parasitic nematode Onchocerca volvulus, which is transmitted by the blackfly vector Simulium, which carries third-stage larvae.

Infection can lead to chronic skin disease, severe itching, and eye lesions that can progress to complete blindness. There are approximately 123 million people at risk for infection in 38 countries and at least 25.7 million people infected. Of infected persons, 1 million are blind or have severe visual impairments.

Advances in prevention and treatment have decreased the prevalence of this disease in localized areas of Africa and Latin America. Most cases are found in Africa, south of the Sahara, in a wide zone that lies along the fifteenth parallel from Senegal to Ethiopia.

Multiple organizations have created programs whose goal is to prevent and treat onchocerciasis.
These include the Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP) in West Africa, a program created by the World Health Organization (WHO) that lasted for 28 years, ending in 2002; the program successfully eliminated onchocerciasis as a public health problem in 10 of the 11 African countries involved. The River Blindness Elimination Program, created by The Carter Center, works in Latin America and Africa to eliminate river blindness.

Although multiple programs are working extensively to eliminate this disease, onchocerciasis is still a very relevant world health problem.

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