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Ugandan develops medicine to treat River blindness

Okello Noel lives in Kibega Villiage, Pader District, Uganda. In 2007, at age 13, he lost his sight to river blindness.

KAMPALA- A Ugandan doctor and an academic at Gulu University has developed a drug that could end River blindness in the World.

Dr Amos Nyathirombo a lecturer and medical researcher at Gulu University said the medicine will be used to treat patients aged 12 years and older across the country.

The drug known locally as Minu, in Alur, a local language [Moxidectin the new medical name] here in Uganda has already been approved by the United States Drug and Food Authority for public use.

Dr Nyathirombo becomes the second Ugandan to go into medical research books barely a week after another Ugandan was crowned winner of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for coding a device which tests for malaria without drawing blood.

According to a study published in the Lancet in January and www.contagionlive.com indicate that the Medicines Development for Global Health (MDGH) and the World Health Organization Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) have also announced the approval by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of moxidectin 8mg oral for the treatment of river blindness in patients aged 12 and older.

Moxidectin, a macrocyclic lactone anthelmintic medicine, operates by selectively binding to the parasite’s glutamate-gated chloride ion channels. These channels are critical to the function of muscle cells and invertebrate nerves.

The medical reports in the Lancet indicate that the approval of moxidectin was based on the results from 2 randomized, double-blind, active-controlled clinical studies in Ghana, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And adds that each study achieved its respective objectives and demonstrated a “statistically significant superiority” of moxidectin in suppressing the presence of microfilariae in the skin in comparison with ivermectin, the results from the phase 3 study published in the Lancet in January.

“FDA approval is a momentous achievement for any biopharmaceutical company, but it is a particularly rare and exciting event in the neglected diseases setting. It takes a broad community to develop a new medicine. FDA approval represents decades of work by thousands of scientists, disease control specialists, expert advisors, community health workers, funders and study participants,” Dr Mark Sullivan, founder and managing director of MDGH, said in the announcement statement 14 June.

Reports indicate that the medicine has been developed by MDGH and TDR with a $13 million investment from the Global Health Investment Fund and that FDA awarded MDGH with a priority review voucher (PRV) designed to promote the development of new drug and treatment options for neglected diseases.

Dr Nyathirombo said MDGH will continue to explore treatment options for river blindness, particularly in children.

About the disease

River blindness, or onchocerciasis, is caused by a parasitic worm called Onchocerca volvulus, which is transmitted to humans through exposure with infected black flies and it is popular around Kabarole District.

The disease causes severe itching, disfiguring skin conditions, visual impairment, and in extreme cases, permanent blindness and is one of the neglected tropical diseases transmitted by a black fly of the simulium neavei specie.

The fly, he says, breeds in fast-flowing streams and rivers, and transmits a nematode filaria worm and the fly is also common in cool forests which means that more than 90 per cent of potential victims of river blindness are on the African continent.

Reports from Centre for Disease Control [CDC], in Uganda, more than 3.5 million people in the lake regions of east, north, and West Nile have been affected by the disease with the worst hit areas being Kayunga, Kamuli, Buyikwe, Jinja, Mayuge and Wadelai.

Other areas include Kyenjojo and Kabarole, Mt Elgon region, Budongo, Bwindi, Maracha-Terego and Madi.

Mr Moses Katabarwa, a senior epidemiologist at the Carter Centre, says the disease has been eliminated or interrupted in most places in Uganda except in Moyo, Lamwo, Kitgum, Gulu, Nwoya, Pader, Oyam, Amuru where transmission is still ongoing because of influx of refugees from South Sudan.

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Dr Amos Nyathirombo is an academician at Gulu medical school at Gulu University [Lecturer], he is an Ophthalmologist, is a medical or osteopathic doctor who specializes in eye and vision care and a graduate of Makerere University in Uganda, school of medicine [Class of 1992].

He went to St Aloysius College, Nyapea for his O’ level before joining Namilyango college for his A’ level and later Makerere University, he holds a master in Ophthalmology.

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