What is River blindness?

River blindness (which is also known as onchocerciasis) is caused by an infection from a parasitic worm transmitted by blackflies, which breed in fast-flowing streams and rivers.

The worms produce larvae that move to the skin, eyes and other organs. This can lead to debilitating itching, disfiguring skin conditions and sight loss (including irreversible blindness). With these conditions, river blindness has an enormous impact on the lives of those infected by reducing their ability to work and study in school.

People affected by river blindness

26 million people are infected with the river blindness 200 million people are at risk of contracting river blindness 99% of people infected live in sub-Saharan Africa

WHO NTD roadmap targets for river blindness

The World Health Organization’s roadmap on NTDs set out a comprehensive plan for the control, elimination and eradication of various neglected tropical diseases by 2020, including river blindness.

River blindness target: Elimination by 2020

  • Elimination in Latin America by 2015
  • Elimination in Yemen by 2015
  • Elimination in selected African countries by 2020

Countries that have eliminated river blindness

Four countries have eliminated river blindness since 2012:

  • Colombia (2013)
  • Ecuador (2014)
  • Mexico (2015)
  • Guatemala (2016)

Countries implementing preventive chemotherapy for river blindness

People receiving preventive chemotherapy for river blindness

Since the London Declaration was signed in 2012 and partners committed to defeating neglected tropical diseases, the number of people receiving preventive chemotherapy for river blindness has increased considerably.


  • Data is provided by the World Health Organization