Freetown, January 15 2018 --- With support from WHO, Helen Keller International and partners, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation is advancing efforts towards the elimination and control of onchocerciasis, or 'river blindness'. The country has also launched its revised five-year National Action Plan (2016-2020) for Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) elimination.
Onchocerciasis, or 'river blindness', is a vector-borne disease spread through the repeated bites of infected blackflies. Symptoms include severe itching, disfiguring skin conditions, and visual impairment, including permanent blindness.
Targeted for elimination by the year 2020, the disease is present in 12 of Sierra Leone’s 14 districts, with approximately six million people at risk. People in remote rural areas are most vulnerable to NTDs, which can cause severe disfigurement and disability including developmental delays, stunted growth in children and anaemia in pregnant women.
Building on progress made in controlling 'oncho'
Despite its geographical spread, significant progress has been made in reducing the number of onchocerciasis infections among the general population. For control of the disease, WHO recommends treatment with ivermectin at least once yearly for between 10 to 15 years.
In endemic communities, Sierra Leone has conducted a total of twelve rounds of integrated Mass Drug Administration campaigns against the disease from 2005 to 2017, through a network of trained Community Health Worker volunteers.
As per the World Health Organization recommendation for NTD elimination, a country Technical Advisory Committee nominated by the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation was formed and officially inaugurated in December 2017 to advise the NTDs Programme.
WHO provides technical guidance and advocates to governments and partners for the control of NTDs, and supports planning and implementation of Mass Drug Administration campaigns. The WHO Regional Office for Africa currently supervises ESPEN which coordinates NTD control and elimination activities in the region.