Niger set to be first African nation to eliminate river blindness

West African nation is preparing the paperwork for World Health Organisation verification

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Niger is set to be the first country in Africa to eradicate river blindness after it completed the necessary evaluations to certify the elimination of the disease.

The West African nation announced at Expo 2020 Dubai that it is preparing the paperwork for World Health Organisation verification that it has eliminated onchocerciasis - commonly known as river blindness.

River blindness is caused by repeated bites by black flies that live near flowing water. It can cause severe skin problems and the loss of sight after the age of 30.

Adults left without sight by river blindness are often unable to work, meaning their children have to leave school to care for them, adding to the cycle of poverty. Most of the cases are found in 31 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

River blindness and lymphatic filariasis (better known as elephantiasis) are two of the worst neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

NTDs affect more than 1.7 billion people, often those living in under-resourced areas, in remote communities and without basic services, such as access to clean water and sanitation.

Important step for Niger and Africa

Once verified and certified by the WHO, it will mark the culmination of more than 40 years of work to control river blindness in Niger and proves that elimination is possible, not just in West Africa, but across the entire continent.

An event was held at Expo 2020 Dubai to mark the achievement, which was hosted by Reaching the Last Mile, a UAE-based awareness and fundraising initiative led by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and The END Fund, a philanthropic investment platform focused on tackling the five most common NTDs.

The END Fund manages the Reach the Last Mile Fund (RLMF), a 10-year, $100 million (Dh367.3 million) initiative established in 2017 by Sheikh Mohamed, along with other supporters, including The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, commended Niger’s leadership in the fight against a disease "that once seemed impossible to defeat".

"I have deep gratitude to all who contributed to this achievement, including the Nigeriens whose efforts made it an attainable dream," he said.

"In particular, I want to thank His Highness [Sheikh Mohamed] for his vision in initiating the Reaching the Last Mile Fund, which has brought new technologies and approaches to the NTD sector and supported Niger in reaching the finish line.”

Updated: December 09, 2021, 10:14 AM
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