Thursday, August 1, 2013

Colombia is First Country in the World to Eliminate Parasitic Disease River Blindness


Colombia has been verified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having eliminated the parasitic disease onchocerciasis (known as “river blindness”), thus becoming the first country in the world to achieve this goal.

In an official notification letter, WHO director-general Margaret Chan congratulated the government of Colombia and urged it to “maintain vigilance to detect any future outbreaks” of the disease, which continues to circulate in other countries of Latin America.

 Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), WHO’s Regional Office for the Americas, said Colombia’s achievement is “an example of commitment, persistence, and integrated work” and noted that the Americas Region has shown leadership in fighting this and other neglected infectious diseases. She also called for “redoubling efforts to eliminate the disease” in five other countries of this hemisphere, namely, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela, which are working toward achieving this same objective.

The official announcement came during a meeting in Bogotá led by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and minister of health and social protection Alejandro Gaviria, with participants including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, director of the Carter Center, which spearheaded the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program of the Americas (OEPA), supporting actions to eliminate the disease. PAHO’s assistant director, José Romero Teruel, and the PAHO/WHO representative in Colombia, Gina Watson, also participated in the meeting.

Colombia achieved elimination of onchocerciasis following 16 years of concerted efforts led by Colombia’s National Institute of Health with support from the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, the Secretariat of Health of the Department of Cauca, academic and research institutions, OEPA, and PAHO/WHO.

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