Global Impact

“In one sense it’s the worst of all kinds of diseases: it maims but it doesn’t kill ... And in that kind of society where people are living on the margin to start with, it’s a horrifying thing for both the individuals and their associates.”
~ Robert S. McNamara, President of the World Bank 1968-1981, in an interview with the River Blindness Foundation

Photo courtesy of WHO/TDR.

Photo courtesy of WHO/TDR.
Photo courtesy of WHO/TDR.

Morbidity & Mortality
Onchocerciasis per se is not a disease that kills (although it can reduce one’s life expectancy by perhaps 15 years, which is a significant amount where the average lifespan is only 50 years). The mortality rate of zero just means that affected individuals have years to experience the impact of the disease on their bodies, their mental health, their social status and roles, and the well-being of their families and communities. The World Health Report 2002 estimates that the global burden of the disease is 987,000 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs, the sum of years of potential life lost due to premature mortality and the years of productive life lost due to disability). [h,j,q,v]

Many of the most fertile and arable lands in Africa have been abandoned out of fear of disease. Mass migrations to already overpopulated cities causes worsening poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, sanitation, and productivity. In the 1970s, the WHO estimated that the annual economic loss was US$ 30 million. [h,w]

“For a blind person, whether a man or woman, the suffering’s the same . . . My brother became blind when he was young and so couldn’t get a wife. We’re both supported by our families — for food, for everything. It’s terrible.” ~ Sata Ouattara, a blind onchocerciasis victim in Africa [h]

Onchocerciasis also causes debilitating and unsightly symptoms as well as early aging. From a holistic standpoint, the disease ultimately results in social stigma, dependence on family for survival, helplessness, emotional trauma, and displacement. [2,h,a,c,d]