The Ugandan government says effort to eliminate river blindness (onchocerciasis) have suffered setbacks from recurrent cross-border transmissions from neighboring South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Uganda Image/Robert Herriman
Image/Robert Herriman

Addressing a meeting held to evaluate progress towards the elimination of river blindness in Kampala recently, Uganda Onchocerciasis Elimination Expert Advisory Committee head Dr Edridah Muheki said long-running conflicts in her neighbors have complicated Uganda’s disease control efforts.

“The Uganda (river blindness control) programme has been active for a long time and we are headed for elimination of the disease.

“However, South Sudan and DR Congo have not had stable disease control programmes for years. There have been cross-border transmissions and that affects progress in Uganda. We are strengthening cross-border collaborations to enhance disease control,” Dr Muheki said.

Civil wars, banditry and militia activity in the DR Congo and South Sudan have stalled government epidemiological studies to establish the prevalence of river blindness.

Health Minister Dr Ruth Aceh said it is critical for Uganda to work with her conflict-ridden neighbours to control river blindness, which remains prevalent along the common borders.

To fill up the epidemiological data gaps, the World Health Organization (WHO), Uganda, DR Congo and South Sudan are undertaking a mapping exercise to establish disease prevalence.

Among other uses, the findings will help inform a government mass drug administration program that is due to be rolled out in endemic areas.

River blindness is spread by the black fly which inhabits and reproduces in fast-flowing water bodies and humid forests. An estimated 90% of the annual cases occur in Africa.