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Fighting neglected tropical diseases in Africa
Friday, November 16th, 2012

Photographer Kate Holt traveled to Kaduna, Nigeria to examine river blindness, the world's leading cause of preventable sight loss. More than 100 million people in Africa are at high risk of contracting the disease. A conference in Washington, DC — hosted by the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — is now attempting to shine a light on this and other neglected tropical diseases.

River blindness 1
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River blindness remains one of the world’s leading causes of preventable blindness. 102 million people are at high risk of river blindness in Africa. However there is hope for communities like this one in Kaduna, Nigeria. Sightsavers and partners are close to breaking the cycle of infection in some areas and says elimination of this blinding disease is finally in sight.

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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Women wash clothes in the river close to their village. Rivers like this one are where the flies that spread river blindness breed. The disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of the fly which breeds by fast-flowing water. The disease causes intense itching, serious visual impairment, and eventual blindness.

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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Sile Maigari lost his sight to river blindness forty years ago. His only wish in life is to be able to see again. Sile is one of the 300,000 who are already blinded by the disease in Africa.

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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Ajiyan Allah, who contracted the disease twenty years ago, is led out of her house by her granddaughter. As well as robbing people of their sight, river blindness can have a much wider impact on the community. The disease stops children from going to school as they become carers and prevents parents from working, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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Today the treatment Mectizan® is used to prevent river blindness, which was endemic in Kaduna before Sightsavers began their intervention 10 years ago. This year is 25 years since the pharmceutical Merck & Co Inc took the historic decision to donate the anti-parasitic treatment free of charge for as long as it is needed.

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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Women return from a river after collecting water in the village of Garamach in Kaduna. By taking the treatment on an annual basis, people don’t need to leave their homes, farm land and livelihoods which are alongside the rivers. The deserted villages that were once the impact of this disease are a thing of the past.

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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At the heart of the programme to distribute Mectizan® are the Community Directed Distributor volunteers. The distributors work in teams of two or three and visit individual households. They ensure everyone is protected from river blindness by measuring and giving out the correct doses of the treatment using a coloured stick.

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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A young girl listens to a distributor carry out an educational talk about the dangers of river blindness.

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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The distributor system allows a community, whose inhabitants have little or no health qualifications, to take responsibility and management of the disease control programme. The approach, designed for river blindness, is so successful it is being used in multiple-disease control programmes such as those tackling elephantiasis.

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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To this day Mectizan® remains one of the most cost-effective health interventions available - 800 million doses of Mectizan® have been given to people in need like these women. “It’s the wonder drug,” says Sunday Isiyaku, Sightsavers’ country director in Nigeria.

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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As little as 11 cents can protect someone from river blindness for a year by ensuring the treatment reaches the communities in need

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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Sightsavers has launched the Million Dollar Appeal to raise money to prevent over seven million people in West Africa from going blind from river blindness.

(Kate Holt/Sightsavers - Courtesy)
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