This month, the World Health Organization marks the 30th anniversary of its campaign against river blindness, once the scourge of West Africa. Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports.
CURWOOD: Just ahead, if walls could talk, they’d be giving a lecture at Oberlin’s new environmental studies building. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.
TOOMEY: This month, the World Health Organization marks the end of its nearly 30-year campaign against river blindness, a disease that once ravaged the people of West Africa. River blindness is caused by a parasitic worm that can survive up to 14 years in the human body. The worms are transmitted through the bite of black flies that live near water. The parasite can cause lesions of the eye that can lead to blindness.
When the campaign began, more than one million people in West Africa suffered from the disease. In high impact areas, one-third of the population had severe vision impairment and up to 10 percent were completely blind. In addition, many farm fields in the region were abandoned out of fear of contracting river blindness.
The effort to end the scourge began with the elimination of black fly larvae. More than half a million square miles were sprayed with insecticide. In addition, a pharmaceutical company donated a new drug that proved to be effective against the disease. Today, the parasite has been practically wiped out in West Africa. Aside from putting an end to the physical misery, the success of the program has meant that more than 60 million acres of fertile land can now be recultivated.
That’s this week’s health update. I’m Diane Toomey.
CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: Samite of Uganda, “Munomuno” THE BEST OF WORLD MUSIC (Rhino, 1993)]
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