Colombia is the first country in the Western Hemisphere to eliminate the disease river blindness, announced health authorities last week.
The Latin American nation sent a request to the Panamerican Health Organization to recognize and certify that the disease, officially called Oncocersosis, has been eliminated from its rivers.
The announcement was made at the 11th Inter-american Conference on Oncocersosis held in Bogota November 9 through 11.
Colombian health authorities have spent 16 years trying to rid the country of the disease.
Efforts were focused on the Naiciona people, a population of 1,366 in the department of Cauca. For 13 years the members of the Naiciona community were given anti-parasitic drugs, donated by Merck, twice a year.
The Vice Minister of Health and Social Protection, Beatriz Londoño said “This is a source of pride but also a challenge for Colombia with other diseases.”
River blindness, also known as Robles’ disease, is an infectious disease caused by bites from the Simulim fly which transmits the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus. It is the second leading infectious cause of blindness in the world.
According to World Health Organization figures, there are 17.7 million people infected worldwide, of which 270,000 have been blinded. Over 100 million people are at risk of contracting the infirmity.