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News Release

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lcif@lionsclubs.org

Transmission of River Blindness Halted in Ecuador

Atlanta, Georgia, USA, Marchn 3, 2010 — Ecuador has become the second nation in the Americas to halt the transmission of onchocerciasis, according to a press release from the Carter Center, the Atlanta-based sponsoring agency for the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program in the Americas.

The Onchocerciasis Elimination Program in the Americas is a community-based partnership that includes volunteers in the endemic countries of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela. Lions Clubs International Foundation supports the partnership effort through funding as well as grassroots volunteer efforts to provide education about the disease and distribute medication in the endemic countries. LCIF has supported 131 million Mectizan treatments to control and eliminate the disease. Other partners supporting the initiative include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pan American Health Organization, the Pan American Health and Education Foundation, Merck and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Acting under a resolution by the Pan American Health Organization, the program has sought to end transmission of river blindness in these six endemic countries by 2012 through health education and the semiannual mass distribution of the anti-parasite drug Mectizan (ivermectin, Merck).

The Ministry of Health has been providing ivermectin to patients in the northern part of Ecuador's Esmeraldas Province since 1990. In 2008, 27,372 ivermectin treatments were administered to more than 16,000 people there, after which epidemiological studies showed that the transmission of the parasite had been stalled.

Colombia was the first of the six nations to break the transmission of onchocerciasis in 2008.

"With only four countries remaining endemic, it's critical that elimination efforts and health education are intensified elsewhere in the Americas to reach the regional goal and to avoid future suffering," Frank O. Richards Jr., MD, director of the Carter Center's River Blindness Program, said in the release.

In order for the World Health Organization to confirm that the parasite has been eliminated, a 3-year surveillance phase will begin in Ecuador this year to ensure that infection does not reoccur in the absence of ivermectin distribution.

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Lions Clubs International Foundation is the charitable arm of LionsClubs International, the largest service club organization in the worldwith more than 1.35 million members in 206 geographic areas andcountries. LCIF was ranked by a Financial Times' study as the numberone non-governmental organization with which to partner. Through SightFirst, LCIF has restored sight to 30 million people. Learn more about LCIF online at www.lcif.org.

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