Ghana FELTP, Partners Work to Address River Blindness

Caitlyn Winders, Project Coordinator
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The study team gathers for a traditional reception by community members during their site visits. Photo courtesy of Ghana FELTP.


The Ghana Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP), Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Programme of the Ghana Health Service, African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) Uganda, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working to better understand transmission of onchocerciasis, or river blindness, in Ghana’s northern region to improve prevention and treatment of the endemic disease across the country. The groups plan to launch a sero-prevalence study this month aimed at determining the serologic threshold for mass drug administration for onchocerciasis. This information would benefit the Ghana Health Service’s Onchocerciasis Control Programme and facilitate assessment of the impact of Onchocerciasis Mass Drug Administration (MDA). Given the prevalence of river blindness across the country (according to the World Health Organization, in 2020, the estimated number of individuals requiring preventive chemotherapy was more than 7.5 million), this work could be critical to reducing the global burden of the disease. 

In preparation for the study, teams from the Ghana FELTP, NTD Programme, CDC, and AFENET Uganda embarked on a fact-finding mission in February of this year. The group visited six sites in the northern region, with a primary focus on District Health Offices, to understand any logistical challenges to study implementation, determine the onchocerciasis situation to aid selection of study villages, sensitize local communities, meet with stakeholders, and understand local context. In addition to visiting the District Health Office, the team selected and visited one endemic community with blackfly breeding sites–a known source of transmission of river blindness. The team assessed blackfly densities and observed that most rivers had dried up and could no longer support active breeding sites. The visit furnished the teams with a deeper scientific understanding of the current state of onchocerciasis as well as necessary cultural context that will ensure that the study is executed in an informed and efficient manner.