Nigeria stops treatment for river blindness in 4 new states

Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health has announced a record-breaking decision affecting nearly 18.9 million people. After 27 years of mass administration of Mectizan, four additional states (Abia, Anambra, Enugu, and Imo) have reached the interruption of transmission of river blindness, and will therefore stop treatment. This is the largest stop-treatment decision in the history of the global river blindness campaign.

Nigeria is the most endemic country in the world for river blindness. Five additional states in Nigeria have stopped treatment and have either completed the 3 required post-treatment surveillance (Nasarawa, Plateau) or are currently in the post-treatment surveillance phase (Delta, Kaduna, Kebbi, and Zamfara). Today over 28 million people no longer need treatment in Nigeria—a remarkable achievement!

Since 2015 this work has been advised by the Nigeria Onchocerciasis Elimination Committee (NOEC), comprised of national and international experts and leaders. The NOEC is chaired by a Mectizan Expert Committee/Albendazole Coordination member, Professor B E. B. Nwoke of Imo State University, who said, “When we started, many questioned our ambition. Today I’m proud that Nigeria once again serves as a beacon of inspiration, not only for river blindness elimination globally, but also for all the countries around the world working to eliminate neglected tropical diseases.”

The Federal Ministry of Health partnered with the Carter Center to train health workers to distribute in six of its nine supported states where treatment has been stopped, including the four states announced on February 2nd. “The magnitude of Nigeria’s latest ‘stop-treatment decision’ for river blindness is incredible,” said Dr. Gregory S. Noland, director of the Carter Center’s River Blindness Elimination Program. “For perspective, prior to this decision, the 16-year cumulative stop-treatment total in 12 Carter Center-assisted countries was about 12.3 million. This more than doubles that figure.”

What’s next? A period of surveillance has begun in these four states to ensure the disease has truly been eliminated.

The Mectizan Donation Program’s director, Dr. Yao Sodahlon, said, “We congratulate the Nigeria Onchocerciasis Elimination Committee, the Federal Ministry of Health, the Carter Center, and the people of Nigeria on this exciting achievement. We look forward to many more.”

In a statement, the Federal Ministry of Health acknowledged the support of its partners, including Amen Health Care and Empowerment Foundation; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the Carter Center; Christoffel Blinden Mission; the END Fund; Health and Development Support Programme (HANDS); Helen Keller International; *Merck and Co., Inc. and the Mectizan Donation Program; MITOSATH; Sightsavers; UNICEF; USAID’s Act to End NTDs | East Program led by RTI International; US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the World Health Organization.

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