The South American country of Columbia is celebrating becoming the first in the world to successfully eradicate onchocerciasis from their shores. The condition is more commonly known and referred to as river blindness. The achievement was highlighted by the Pan American Health Organization and WHO in July 2013.
Onchocerciasis, or river blindness, is a parasitic disease caused by infection by a roundworm. It is the second highest cause of infectious blindness. Once the infection takes hold, the sufferer begins to feel severe itching, as well as damage to the optical tissue in the eye, which in turn leads to a loss of vision. In 1987, Merck confirmed that donations of Mectizan, the drug to treat the condition, would be made available to all who required it in attempt to stamp out the disease across the world.
Along with Columbia, a number of other countries in the Americas, where the condition is most prevalent, claim to be closing in on a similar conclusion to the disease, with Mexico and Ecuador amongst them. In order to confirm the elimination of the disease, countries are required to treat via the use of Mectizan and once eradication is believed to have been achieved, a three year surveillance process begins through the WHO before a final conclusion can be made. Both countries are one year into their testing procedure and expect to know the outcome in 2015.