Venezuela has succeeded in interrupting the transmission of onchocerciasis—also known as river blindness—in one of the three foci where the disease has been endemic, thanks to its National Onchocerciasis Elimination Program. In the country's north-central focus, there are no cases of eye disease attributable to onchocerciasis, and the roughly 14,000 people who live in these rural areas are no longer considered t at risk of infection.
In light of this evidence, suspension of mass treatment with ivermectin (Mectizán ®) is recommended for the onchocerciasis-endemic communities in this area.
Onchocerciasis is a parasitic disease caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus, which is transmitted through the black fly of the Simulium genus. This is endemic in parts of Africa and in 13 rural foci in six countries of the Americas. Onchocerciasis is considered one of the neglected diseases and can cause severe injury to the skin and visual damage leading to blindness. The Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) adopted two resolutions, one in 2008 and the other 2009, that formalized the goal of interrupting onchocerciasis transmission in all foci in the Region by 2012, a process requiring years of continuous effort. In this regard, Venezuela has made great strides toward this goal.
The existence of onchocerciasis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was first reported in 1948 in the north-eastern region of the country. Cases were later identified in the north-central region and, in the mid-1970s, a third focus was found in the southern region of the country.
Epidemiological studies identified three onchocerciasis foci in the country: (Annex No. 1)
- The north-eastern focus, which includes large areas of Monagas state, as well as several municipalities in Sucre and Anzoátegui states.
- The north-central focus, which includes Aragua, Carabobo, Guarico, Cojedes, Miranda, and Yaracuy states.
- The southern focus, which includes Amazon and Bolivar states, sharing an endemic area where indigenous communities live, principally the Yanomamis, who are highly mobile on both sides of the border Venezuela-Brazil border.