Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD): River Blindness

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

END7 at NU is a budding student group at Northeastern that is in the process of becoming official. END7 at NU is a chapter of the larger nonprofit, END7, which is working to eliminate seven neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by the year 2020. One in six people in the world are living with NTDs, which are different kinds of parasitic or bacterial diseases infecting their bodies. The effect is detrimental at best — deadly at worst — and perpetuates the poverty cycle in developing countries; children are prevented from attending schools and adults are prevented from working. The disabilities associated with NTDs are stigmatized within many rural communities and isolate those with poor health. Using mass drug administration techniques, the end of NTDs can be achieved. One packet of pills each year treats and protects children and adults from all seven NTDs. The medicine is donated by large pharmaceutical companies, and it costs only 50 cents per packet to distribute. Less than a dollar can protect a child from debilitating diseases for one year. END7 is working to increase awareness of NTDs in the developed world, raise funds to administer the drugs, and encourage the leaders of the world to take a stand against this injustice. If we all join in the fight, “Together we can see the end.”

If you want to help or get involved, visit:


Machetes red with intense heat, broken glass, and boiling water: all treatments attempted in order to quell the relentless itchiness caused by the disease onchocerciasis [1]. Those afflicted with the infection say they cannot even sleep because the debilitating itching becomes so extreme. Some resort to suicide.

Parasitic worms inside the bodies of human hosts cause this crippling disease. Black flies, which breed near large bodies of moving water, lay eggs in the skin of the hosts, where the larvae hatch and develop into worms. The female worms release millions of small larvae into the body that die and subsequently cause severe skin rashes and disfigurement, as well as vision impairment [2]. 26 million people are infected worldwide, with 99% of them living in sub Saharan Africa near rivers, where the black flies live. There have also been some cases reported in Yemen and South America [2].

Onchocerciasis is also called river blindness, and it remains the fourth leading cause of blindness in the world causing severe impairment in 500,000 people and rendering another 270,000 permanently blind [2]. In the 1970s in African river communities, where the disease was (and still is) most common, more than half of the adults were blind because of the parasite leading to severe socio-economic repercussions. Adults could no longer support themselves or their families, children could not learn to read, and communities were unable to prosper. The impact of the blindness on communities became so dire it prompted the creation of the Onchocerciasis Control Programme in 1975, which has been successful in bringing down cases of river blindness, but has not completely eliminated the disease [2].

River blindness is not fatal – which might be might be why it remains neglected – but it does make life miserable. The skin becomes leathery, thick, and discolored like “leopard skin”, which explains why those infected are shunned from the community and left to suffer [3].

In order to end this parasite-generated torment, the treatment of one pill annually would rid the body of parasites from the body [1]. This could mean the treatment of the vision impairment, the debilitating itching, and the skin disfigurement. One pill could mean the healing of entire communities, restoring families and villages to health and happiness.


Itxaso Garay
Biochemistry ’18



[1] Landau, Elizabeth. “With River Blindness, ‘you Never Sleep'” CNN. Cable News Network, 02 Feb. 2013.

[2] “Onchocerciasis.” Global Network. 2014.

[3] WHO. World Health Organization, “Water-related Diseases.” 2014.

[1] Landau, Elizabeth. “With River Blindness, ‘you Never Sleep'”

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