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It was announced last Thursday at Expo 2020 Dubai that Niger is preparing the requisite paperwork for WHO verification and pending certification, and the country is now poised to be the first in Africa to declare it has eliminated the NTD – a feat once considered impossible. After over 40 years of work to control or eliminate river blindness in West Africa, the achievement in Niger provides a proof of concept that elimination is possible, not just in West Africa but across the entire continent.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

The Niger Ministry of Public Health, Population and Social Affairs made the initial announcement on August 30, 2021 (computer translated):

After the work, its meeting held in Niamey from 25 to 26 August 2021, the Advisory Committee of Experts for the Elimination of Onchocerciasis informed the Minister of Public Health, Population and Social Affairs that the National Program for the fight against onchocerciasis has successfully achieved its goal of permanently interrupting the transmission of this important dermatological and eye infection in Niger.

This achievement of the Nigerien Program in charge of the fight against this parasitic infestation is not only a major success for Niger but also a success for the African continent because it is the first onchocerciasis endemic country in Africa to achieve this important objective. programmatic,

This is a major achievement that contributes significantly to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the targets of the World Health Organization NTD roadmap.

Onchocerciasis, is an infection caused by a wireworm that causes blindness, disfigurement of the skin, intolerable itching, so many worrying constraints that have kept people away from fertile land because the vector which is a small black fly called blackfly breeds in the rivers that irrigate these agricultural lands. .

In 1976, some 500,000 people in Niger were infected or at least at risk of being infected. In 2002, onchocerciasis was no longer a public health problem but the risk remained present. Now twenty years later, all who live in previously affected areas can live without fear of being infected and suffering the terrible effects. of this disease. People and their children will never experience disease and infection. This success came after a long fight against this disease which began more than 40 years ago with an African Program to fight against the black fly in 11 countries of West Africa including Niger.

Although Niger conquered this disease by the only vector control, the patients detected were treated case by case from 1987 thanks to a donation of ivermectin, offered by Merck & Co. It is an antiparasitic drug which made its evidence in the fight against this disease. Because of its co-endemicity with lymphatic filariasis, this molecule has also been used in mass treatment in districts which were once endemic for onchocerciasis.

Nearly two million people regularly received this drug of known efficacy free of charge. . This mass distribution was successfully carried out thanks to the program, hundreds of health workers from the regions of Dosso and Tillabéri, the health districts of Téra, Bankilaré, Gotheye, Say, Torodi, Kollo, Boboye, Falmeye, Dioundiou, Gaya and finally thousands of community distributors in collaboration with infected communities.

The results of recent years have been obtained thanks to the technical and financial support of The End Fund’s Reaching the Last Mile program (a legacy of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi), as well as by USAID, WHO, Hellên Keller Intl, and many other partners.

This decision by Niger’s expert advisory committee sets off a sequence of events which, hopefully and expected, will lead to Niger being formally declared free from onchocerciasis transmission by the World Organization. of health. These official measures are the ones that four countries, all from Latin America, have already followed when they have all succeeded in eliminating the transmission of this infection, and Niger is fully expected to become the fifth country in the world to achieve this status. important, and as said above, the first in Africa.

Approximately 20.9 million people are infected with the parasite that causes onchocerciasis, with more than 240 million at risk of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Yemen.