Sixty-four experts from a variety of disciplines attended a Conference on the Eradicability of Onchocerciasis at The Carter Center, in Atlanta GA, held January 22-24, 2002. The Conference, which was organized by The Carter Center and the World Health Organization, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, addressed the question: "Is onchocerciasis (River Blindness) eradicable with current knowledge and tools?" Former US President Jimmy Carter attended part of the final plenary proceedings on January 24.
The Conference consisted of a series of presentations by invited expert speakers (Appendix C) and further deliberations in four workgroups (Appendix D) followed by plenary discussion of major conclusions. The presentations underlined epidemiological and entomological differences between onchocerciasis in Africa and the Americas. Whilst onchocerciasis in Africa covers extensive areas and is associated with striking human and fly population migrations and remarkably efficient black fly vectors, in the Americas onchocerciasis is found in limited foci. Human and fly population migration are not major problems in the Americas, where most black fly species are inefficient, though some efficient black flies are also found there. Vector control has been effectively applied in the Onchocerciasis Control Program in West Africa (OCP) with remarkable results, interrupting transmission in most parts of the original Program area. The use of ivermectin has given variable results: while ivermectin treatment has been effective in all endemic areas in controlling onchocerciasis as a public health problem, its potential for interrupting transmission is more promising in hypo- and mesoendemic areas. The African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC), which supports onchocerciasis control in endemic African countries outside the OCP, applies ivermectin, its principal control tool, to communities in high-risk areas as determined by rapid epidemiological mapping of onchocerciasis (REMO) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). In the Americas, through support of the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program in the Americas (OEPA), a strategy of bi-annual ivermectin treatment of at least 85% of the eligible populations in all endemic communities is showing very good results and promises to be effective in eliminating onchocerciasis in the region.The Conference concluded that onchocerciasis is not eradicable using current tools due to the major barriers to eradication in Africa. However, the Conference also concluded that in most if not all the Americas, and possibly Yemen and some sites in Africa, transmission of onchocerciasis can be eliminated using current tools. The Conference recommended that where interruption of transmission is feasible and cost effective, programs should aim for that goal using all appropriate and available interventions so that the Onchocerca volvulus can eventually be eliminated and interventions halted. Although interruption of transmission of onchocerciasis cannot currently be achieved in most of Africa, the Conference recommended that efforts be made to preserve areas in West Africa made free of onchocerciasis transmission through the Onchocerciasis Control Program over the past 25 years. In the remaining hyper and mesoendemic foci in Africa, continued annual distribution of ivermectin will keep onchocerciasis controlled to a point where it is no longer a public health problem or constraint to economic development.