Hello and welcome back guys! Over the past few blog posts, we’ve looked at some neglected tropical diseases from a bleak backdrop and pushed upward towards optimism. But, this post is a tad different because we’ll be discussing: prizes, rivers, and a lot of hope for the future.
Onchocerciasis? you have to be making this up mate!
Now when it comes to neglected tropical diseases, the most paid attention to are mostly: Sleeping Sickness, Chagas Disease, Leishmaniasis to name a few. Now there is one where global eradication is within sight, but such a splendid victory should be on every poster and media outlet in sight right?
Well, unless you’re in the ”know” about neglected tropical diseases, the word “Onchocerciasis” might escape your mind. Take a rest my friends, for this is more commonly known as River Blindness (RB). Now, RB is caused by a parasitic worm called Onchocerca volvulus, and through transmission by the bite of blackflies, permanent blindness is usually the end-result.
It remains astonishing as to how a disease that can cause scenarios like the image above isn’t near the top of the priority list on everyone’s mind, I guess “out of sight, out of mind” never held more credence eh?
RB doesn’t get much recognition due to its epidemiology, whereby 99% of cases are within sub-Saharan Africa. The remaining are spread sporadically in Central and South America and a few cases also in Yemen; mainly rural areas so this point seems mildly irrelevant for those outside these areas right? That’s incorrect and as such efforts have been made to treat RB in these areas, including one in particular that’s put RB global eradication within sight.
Noble Light Bringing Victory
In comes avermectin, a chemical compound found to carry anti-parasitic properties which was discovered by Satoshi Ōmura, and subsequently purified by William C.Campbell to extract ivermectin. This would serve as the first-line treatment against RB and carries the potential to eradicate the parasite completely, now surely such a monumental discovery should have these individuals praised, and lo and behold, half of 2015’s winners for the world renown Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine are none other than Mr Ōmura and Mr Campbell, two men who are more than worthy for this prize.
In addition to this, it has been recently established that Mexico joins Colombia and also Ecuador in meeting the World Health Organisation’s criteria in order to be deemed free of RB transmission. Whilst this is excellent news, it came about through arduous work, which included screening up to over 10,000 blackflies in three endemic regions of Mexico for any trace of parasitic DNA and thankfully not one was found to carry the parasite.
I stand in applause for this absolutely stellar breakthrough, the impediment on human health that RB has is too severe to be simply ignored. This information, in my opinion provides a shining beacon of hope for everyone around that RB will soon be eternally out of sight (no pun intended). All of this just goes to show how simple research can generate an effective method to treat a disease diminishing the neglected populations around the world. Hopefully as the word “Onchocerciasis” may be a bit more common amongst the public, there’ll be a continual advance in turning the NEGLECTED into RESPECTED.