Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Circle Complete -- River Blindness Project Begins Final Stage

Date:
August 26, 1997
Source:
Michigan State University
Summary:
Nearly 20 years ago, a group of young scientists stepped off a plane at a remote airport in the Sudan to begin an ambitious program to rid that African nation and the rest of the world of a horrific disease known as river blindness. Next week, some of those scientists will return to the Sudan to "complete the circle," to finish a program many thought would never reach this point and to finish off a disease that claims millions of victims every year.

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Nearly 20 years ago, a group of young scientists stepped off a plane at a remote airport in the Sudan to begin an ambitious program to rid that African nation and the rest of the world of a horrific disease known as river blindness.

Next week, some of those scientists will return to the Sudan to "complete the circle," to finish a program many thought would never reach this point and to finish off a disease that claims millions of victims every year.

"We are now on the road to treatment and our ultimate goal of total disease control," said Charles Mackenzie, chairperson of Michigan State University's Department of Pathology, who was among those "young scientists" who started the eradication program nearly two decades ago.

On Sept. 2, dignitaries from around the world will gather in Khartoum for the APOC/NOTF Workshop, a conference that will officially begin the final drive to end the disease, which also is known by the name onchocerciasis.

(APOC is an acronym for African Program for Onchocerciasis Control; NOTF is the National Onchocerciasis Task Force.)

"This will mark the official commencement of the major treatment program and, of course, the conclusion of many months of planning and collaboration," Mackenzie said.

Among those participating in the conference will be Mackenzie; representatives from the Atlanta-based Carter Center, which has been involved in the eradication program; officials from APOC and NOTF, including task force chairperson Mamoun Homeida, a Sudanese physician and nationally recognized tropical medicine expert; and many others, including representatives of other nations ravaged by the disease and organizations that have donated millions of dollars to help battle the disease.

Onchocerciasis is a devastating disease in which parasites get beneath the skin, causing unbearable itching and discomfort. The parasites eventually make their way to the victim's eyes, causing blindness. The disease is called river blindness because it is spread by the black flies that breed in rivers.

It's estimated that as many as 20 million people throughout Africa, Latin America and the Middle East are infected with onchocerciasis. Of those, nearly a million suffer serious sight impairment and a quarter-million are blind.

One reason health officials are optimistic the disease is on the verge of eradication is the development of a drug called Ivermectin. Developed by the Merck Co., the drug has been incredibly effective in treating parasitic disease in animals and has now been deemed safe for human use.

If all goes according to plan, Mackenzie said onchocerciasis could be a memory within a decade.

One drawback of the medication: Onchocerciasis victims must take the drug for a number of years for it to work.

"We must treat everyone who is infected once a year for probably eight or nine years," Mackenzie said. "This means getting the pills to about 2 million people, virtually all of whom live in the furthest reaches of the Sudan."

No easy task, especially in a nation that has been ravaged by, among other things, a civil war that has dragged on for nearly 30 years.

"In addition, the area is compromised by the lack of communications, the absence of any road system of any significance, and the sheer size of the country -- it's the biggest in Africa," Mackenzie said. "All these factors make the challenges of getting the new treatment to those needing it great indeed."

It's estimated that about 2 million Sudanese are infected with onchocerciasis. About 11 million live in the east Africa nation.

MSU has long been involved in the river blindness battle. Mackenzie, who actually joined the fray when he was on faculty of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, along with MSU professors Jeffrey Williams and James Bennett have long been a presence in the Sudan.

Risking war, land mines and even scorpion stings, Mackenzie and company have all become quite familiar with the Sudanese landscape, traveling to remote villages, teaching people how to take the medication and evaluating its effectiveness. They have also worked closely with Sudanese health care officials, helping them to distribute the much-needed medication.

"We've conducted much research in the characteristics of the disease, the search for new drugs and the development of an integrated delivery system in the primary health system of the Sudan," Mackenzie said. "Happily we now are able to complete the circle, return to the infected people and give them treatment with real hope of controlling the disease and alleviating their suffering."

Just last year, Mackenzie engaged in a bit of shuttle diplomacy, helping bring the country's warring factions together in an effort to battle onchocerciasis.

"We managed to help get the two sides to meet and we were all great friends," he said with a grin. "A cease fire was in place for a while, but, unfortunately, the hostilities have since started up again."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Michigan State University. "Circle Complete -- River Blindness Project Begins Final Stage." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 August 1997. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/08/970826034100.htm>.
Michigan State University. (1997, August 26). Circle Complete -- River Blindness Project Begins Final Stage. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/08/970826034100.htm
Michigan State University. "Circle Complete -- River Blindness Project Begins Final Stage." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/08/970826034100.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctor At Forefront Of Fighting Ebola Outbreak Gets Ebola

Doctor At Forefront Of Fighting Ebola Outbreak Gets Ebola

Newsy (July 24, 2014) Sheik Umar Khan has treated many of the people infected in the Ebola outbreak, and now he's become one of them. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Condemned Man's US Execution Takes Nearly Two Hours

Condemned Man's US Execution Takes Nearly Two Hours

AFP (July 24, 2014) America's death penalty debate raged Thursday after it took nearly two hours for Arizona to execute a prisoner who lost a Supreme Court battle challenging the experimental lethal drug cocktail. Duration: 00:55 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

AFP (July 24, 2014) China's elderly population is expanding so quickly that children struggle to look after them, pushing them to do something unexpected in Chinese society- move their parents into a nursing home. Duration: 02:07 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins