Prevention of Blindness and Visual Impairment

Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP)

Following the dramatic consequences of onchocerciasis in West Africa, WHO launched in 1974 the OCP in collaboration with three other United Nations agencies including the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). These UN agencies constitute the sponsoring agencies of OCP. The programme stretched over 1 200 000 Km² to protect 30 million people in 11 countries from the debilitating effects of river blindness.

For years, OCP operations were exclusively based on the spray of insecticides by helicopters and aircrafts over the breading sites of the blackflies in order to kill their larvae (aerial larviciding). With the donation of Mectizan® (ivermectin) by Merck & Co., Inc. in 1987, control operations changed from exclusive vector control to larviciding combined with ivermectin treatment or, in some areas, to ivermectin treatment alone. OCP was officially closed in December 2002 after virtually stopping the transmission of the disease in all the Participating Countries except Sierra Leone where operations were interrupted by a decade-long civil war.

The wide-ranging benefits of this achievement include 600 000 cases of blindness prevented, 18 million children born in now-controlled areas spared from the risk of river blindness and 25 million hectares of land safe for cultivation and resettlement. OCP clearly demonstrated the important role of partnership in health and socioeconomic development in remote and neglected areas.

OCP countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.