River blindness, a disease that has affected thousands in west Africa, is gradually coming under control. Before 1974, onchocercal infection or river blindness was affecting 60 per cent of the population in some areas of west Africa. Today, the risk of onchocercal blindness has been eliminated in areas where the World Health Organisation (who) is running the Onchocerciasis Control Programme (ocp).
Under the programme, about 34 million people have been saved from river blindness. According to the who, about 400,000 cases of blindness have been prevented so far and at least 1.5 million people have been completely cured from infection. Besides, nearly 11 million children born after 1974, when the programme was launched, do not face the risk of getting affected by river blindness.
The control programme has also helped in reclaiming 25 million hectares of fertile land for agricultural production. This land had been deserted out of fear of the disease. The yield from this land can feed 17 million people annually, says the WHO.
"These figures prove that ocp has been successful in Africa," says K Yankum Dadzie, director, ocp. In areas where the programme has been carried out for a long time -- almost 60 per cent of the total ocp area -- the risk of new cases has been virtually eliminated. In the emaining 40 per cent of the area, in which control operations started more than 10 years later, the who is also distributing ivermectin or Mectizan (r), an effective drug against the disease.
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