Cassandra Bannon 2015-01-13 23:28:28
The Fight Against River Blindness in the Americas Advances Lions remain active in the fight against onchocerciasis, and international efforts to eliminate the disease have made significant advances in the last year. International Second Vice President Bob Corlew and a delegation of international Lions leadership traveled to Mexico City in November to participate in the XXIV InterAmerican Conference on Onchocerciasis (IACO), an annual meeting for partners of the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA) to celebrate achievements in the elimination of onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, and to discuss potential solutions to remaining challenges. Mexico has now eliminated disease transmission and completed the post-treatment surveillance period. Officials have submitted its dossier to the World Health Organization (WHO) for disease elimination verification. If confirmed, Mexico will become the third country in the region to receive verification of elimination of onchocerciasis. The government of Guatemala also is preparing to start the official process to request confirmation from WHO. In 2013, Colombia became the first country confirmed by WHO as free of onchocerciasis, and Ecuador in September became the second country to receive confirmation. While at the conference in Mexico City, Corlew and other Lion leaders met with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a Lion, and Mary Anne Peters, CEO of The Carter Center and a former ambassador, to discuss the ongoing partnership between Lions and The Carter Center, which began in 1999. “We are making huge strides toward halting onchocerciasis,” says Corlew. “Thanks to the work of our partners and the generosity of our Lions, we are preventing blindness and creating a future free from this debilitating disease.” Onchocerciasis is a parasitic infection that causes extreme itching and eye lesions, and may lead to disfiguring skin diseases, low vision and irreversible blindness. Transmission of onchocerciasis in the Americas now continues only in the border region between Venezuela and Brazil among the Yanomami population. Interrupting onchocerciasis transmission in this region poses a significant challenge because the Yanomami people are migratory and live deep in the Amazon rainforest. During the IACO conference, the ministries of health of Venezuela and Brazil committed to working together with The Carter Center, OEPA and other partners to eliminate onchocerciasis from this region by 2019. The Carlos Slim Foundation donated US$6.8 million to OEPA to support elimination efforts among the Yanomami people. Since the Lions-Carter Center partnership began, Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) has provided US$6.3 million to Latin America via The Carter Center for onchocerciasis control, plus additional funds to help Lions in Brazil, Ecuador and other impacted countries support national onchocerciasis control projects. Latin America now has less than 1 percent of the world’s river blindness. About 120 million people remain at risk in Africa. A health worker in Union Victoria, Guatemala, measures a child prior to administering the correct dosage of Mectizan® to prevent river blindness. Photo courtesy of The Carter Center/P. DiCampo
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