Mohama Tchatagba 2013-12-11 08:08:37
Onchocerciasis in Cameroon: The Way Forward In her late 70s, widow Claire Ngon Mongo has been blind for more than 25 years. Still, she found a way to attend a local river blindness meeting one rainy morning in October. Born in the village of Metounga in Cameroon, Mongo currently lives in Edea, a coastal city located upstream of the fast-flowing Sanaga River. Like all small cities located on the banks of the river, Edea does not escape the bites of the black fly. Because of this, the parasite that causes onchocerciasis (river blindness) is carried from one person to another, transmitted through the tiny black fly. Onchocerciasis causes extreme itching and eye lesions. After long-term exposure these lesions may lead to low vision or irreversible blindness. Mongo is completely blind, and her body shows the signs of “leopard skin,” a permanent mark of river blindness and its impact in this remote area of Africa. She became blind before treatments for river blindness were available in her community. Even though Mongo cannot be healed, the younger generations of Cameroonians in this region can have hope for a future without river blindness. In Edea, a city of approximately 120,000 people, almost everyone knows about the Onchocerciasis Control Program, a SightFirst project that has been funded by Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) since 1995. In Cameroon, Lions and LCIF work to control onchocerciasis through ivermectin medication. Four other nongovernmental development organizations also assist in the control and treatment of river blindness in Cameroon. Medication is also distributed to control lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Thanks to Lions and LCIF-supported distribution of Mectizan® (donated by Merck), the rate of onchocerciasis prevalence has dropped drastically in certain regions covered by the program from 1995 to 2012. In six regions of Cameroon the prevalence of the disease has fallen from 90 percent in 1987 to 20 percent in 2013. Achieving these impressive reductions in river blindness was made possible through the distribution of more than 36 million doses of Mectizan® to more than 5.8 million people over the years. However, 20 percent of the population in the endemic regions remains threatened by blindness through onchocerciasis. “I haven’t seen light for a very long time. I am currently able to survive thanks to generous people around me, those who are able to see and work to make money,” says Mongo, in a stuttering but determined voice. “Mectizan has helped them avoid my fate. We need Mectizan for those who can still avoid being blind.” Through funding provided by Lions during Campaign SightFirst II, LCIF has the ability to support local Lions with sight-saving initiatives. Lions will continue to be involved in planning, monitoring, community awareness and mobilization campaigns, as well as advocacy efforts to promote the importance of treatment for onchocerciasis in Cameroon.
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