Mapping the burden of onchocercal skin disease.
Onchocerciasis is a neglected tropical disease caused by a nematode parasite, Onchocerca volvulus, and transmitted by bites of Simulium blackflies which breed near fast-flowing rivers. In humans thousands of microfilariae (immature worms) migrate to the skin and eyes where they cause pathology. Historically, much research was devoted to the serious effect of blindness, from which the disease earns its alternative name of “river blindness”. Mapping the burden of onchocercal skin disease (OSD) was expedited by the development of a clinical classification and grading system which facilitated comparison of data from different countries. After successful field-testing in Nigeria, the classification scheme was used in a multicountry study in seven endemic sites, to estimate the true burden of OSD across Africa. High levels of OSD were found, affecting 28% of the population. A new control programme, the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) was launched in 20 countries using annual doses of ivermectin, donated by Merck & Co., Inc. The multicountry study also found a close correlation between the levels of itching and OSD with the level of endemicity, as determined by the prevalence of onchocercal nodules. This enabled APOC to use Rapid Epidemiological Mapping of Onchocerciasis (REMO) which entailed identifying likely vector breeding sites near rivers, then sampling 50 adult males in nearby villages to determine the prevalence of nodules and delineate which villages required treatment. Onchocerciasis is now targeted for elimination in Africa, and the challenge is to complete Onchocerciasis Elimination Mapping (OEM) of hypoendemic areas using serology.