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Researchers call for better public health campaigns to control and eliminate river blindness


External Sites:
-Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
-World Health Organisation
(Imperial College is not responsible for the content of these external internet sites)

For immediate release
Tuesday 11 October 2005

An international team of researchers are calling for better public health campaigns to reduce the numbers affected by river blindness.

River blindness is a disease transmitted by biting flies, affecting areas such as West Africa, Nigeria, Congo, the Central African Republic and Central and South America, and causing significant health problems for at least 18 million people. The flies carry a parasite called Onchocerca volvulus, which lays microscopic worms in the human host. The bodys immune response towards these worms can lead to eye opacities, eventually causing blindness, and in some cases, skin disease.

simulium_ochraceum

The team have developed a mathematical model, published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which measures exposure by looking at how often people were bitten by the flies carrying the parasite. The new model can also be applied globally, unlike previous models which only looked at one geographical area, limiting how well they could be applied.

Dr João Filipe, from Imperial College London, and first author of the paper said: "This new model could be an important tool in developing effective health campaigns to reduce the numbers affected by river blindness. Currently there are at least 18 million people worldwide affected by this parasite, and more action is urgently needed. This model will help in the fight against the disease by providing a better understanding of the role of exposure to the biting flies that transmit river blindness"

The new model uses data from three regions, Cameroon, Central Guatemala, and Southern Venezuela, and looks at human age and sex. The team estimated entomological factors, such as the number of times people were bitten. This could be affected by anthropological factors, such as the level of protection against bites afforded by clothing.

Dr María-Gloria Basáñez Opens in new window, from Imperial College London, and senior author of the paper, said: "Although river blindness is a major cause of ill health round the world, it is an often overlooked disease as it only affects the poorest tropical areas. Greater investment needs to be made in public awareness campaigns to reduce exposure to it in the affected countries."

The researchers are from Imperial College London, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, France, Institut für Tierphysiologie, Germany, Universidad Central de Venezuela, and the Centro Amazónico de Enfermedades Tropicales, Venezuela.

The work was supported by the Medical Research Council.

For further information please contact:

Tony Stephenson
Press Officer
Communications Division
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6712
Mobile: +44 (0)7753 739766
E-mail: at.stephenson@imperial.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

1. Human infection patterns and heterogeneous exposure in river blindness, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

2. Consistently rated in the top three UK university institutions, Imperial College London is a world leading science-based university whose reputation for excellence in teaching and research attracts students (11,000) and staff (6,000) of the highest international quality.
Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that enhance the quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Website: www.imperial.ac.uk

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