Survey to ascertain prevalence of River Blindness rolls out in Karonga

The Ministry of Health (MoH) has disclosed it will be conducting a survey whose aim is to ascertain the prevalence of onchocerciasis, also known as river disease, in the lakeshore district of Karonga.

River Blindness

The one-month long survey will be done in 34 villages and 30 primary schools in the district.

The survey, second of its kind following a similar one that was conducted in 1997 when eight districts were found to have the disease, has been described as an effective step towards combating the disease by experts.

River blindness is caused by infection by a parasitic worm, onchochera volvulus, and symptoms include severe itching, bumps under the skin and blindness.

It is the second most common cause of blindness after trachoma.

Briefing Karonga district executive committee members Ministry of Health programme manager for onchocerciasis control, Laston Sitima, said the parasitic worm is spread by the bites of a black fly of the simulium type and these flies are usually found near rivers hence the common name of the disease.

Sitima said the ministry has started conducting community sensitization before the commencing of the testing in the targeted communities to let people be aware of the survey to clear the blood sucking misconception as blood will be involved to carry out the survey the same way it is done with malaria.

“Once inside a person the worm creates larvae that comes out of the skin where they can infect the next black fly that bites the person,” he explained.

He added: “We know there a lot of stories and myths out there of blood suckers hence we’ll be on the ground early to sensitize the community about the impending survey. We’re calling on the communities to embrace the exercise.”

Karonga district health officer (DHO), Dr Phinias Mfune, has since called upon the community to embrace the survey as it is vital to ascertain if the disease is still prevalent in Karonga.

He said the communities’ welfare is vital to the DHO hence he called upon parents and guardians to embrace the survey by accompanying their children to their various schools where the survey will be conducted.

According to world health organization (WHO) About 15.5 million people are infected with river blindness.

Approximately 0.8 people have some amount of loss of vision from the infection. Most infections occur in sub-Saharan Africa though some have also been reported in Yemen and isolated areas of central and south America.

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