Nigeria announces more than 18 million more people are free from risk of river blindness

01 Feb 2023
An individual receives medicines during a mass treatment campaign for NTDs in Nigeria.

This week, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health announced that it has achieved the criteria to stop treatment for onchocerciasis in four additional states representing more than 18.9 million people. These states — Imo, Abia, Enugu, and Anambra — are no longer at risk of the disease whose symptoms include severe itching, visual impairment, and disfiguration of the skin. These states join 10 others that have achieved interrupted transmission of river blindness, enabling Nigeria to stop treatment for more than 28 million people, more than any other country in the world.

"I cannot express how gratifying it is to see millions of Nigerians free from the threat of river blindness," said Professor B.E.B Nwoke, Chair of Nigeria's Onchocerciasis Elimination Committee. "Today I'm proud that Nigeria, once again, serves as a beacon of inspiration not only for river blindness elimination globally but also for all the countries around the world working to eliminate neglected tropical diseases," he continued.  

Nigeria has the largest population at-risk for river blindness of all countries globally, with more than 100 million people in 32 states and the Federal Capitol Territory affected. The country has also made the greatest strides globally in eliminating the disease.

“Nigeria continues to achieve incredible progress in its effort to eliminate river blindness and serves as an example of what is possible. This latest announcement is the largest one-time achievement in the history of river blindness. We applaud the Nigerian government and health system’s dedication to freeing its people from the risk of this devastating disease,” said Dr. Wangeci Thuo, Chief of Party for Nigeria on USAID’s Act to End NTDs | East program, led by RTI International.

Nigeria achieved this latest record-breaking milestone after 27 years of consistent distribution of the medicine ivermectin (Mectizan®, donated by Merck & Co., Inc.), paired with health education, to treat, prevent, and eliminate the disease. The Nigeria Onchocerciasis Elimination Committee, which advises the country’s national elimination program, recommended cessation of treatment in these four states based on its review of surveillance results in early December. Results demonstrated interruption of transmission of river blindness.

The leadership of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health’s National Onchocerciasis Elimination Programme and the dedication of tens of thousands of community health workers across the country were critical to this achievement. USAID’s Act to End NTDs | East program, through partners The Carter Center and RTI International, have worked alongside the Nigerian government to achieve its aim of nationwide elimination of transmission of river blindness.