The Volta river and its tributaries are the lifeline for the peoples of sevon West African nations.
The Volta river and its tributaries are the lifeline for the peoples of sevon West African nations. Along the river banks the land is fertile. Here, the people live, grow crops and raise livestock.
But here, too, nature provides a cruel paradox. For the rivers are bareeding grounds for the black fly which transmits one of the most tragic diseases -- onchocerciases, or river blindness. In some areas, one person in every seven is totally blind as a result of the disease.
But now ,under the direction of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a 20-year programme costing over 100 million has been launched to eradicate it.
The seven nations in which this intensive health campaign is being waged are Upper Volta, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Ghana, Togo and Dahomey. The Volta delta is common to them all, and the area in which river blindness is rampant is larger than France.
The objective is simply to eradicate the female black fly. This insect bites humans until it draws blood, and in so doing, deposits infectious parasites into the blood stream. When they breed, the parasites attack the eye, bringing impaired vision and, ultimately, blindness.
The social effects of the disease are even more far-reaching. In many communities, it strikes men in the prime of their working lives, leaving women and children to carry the burden of providing a livelihood. In many cases, whole villages simply uproot themselves and head away from the rivers to sett??? on arid land -- where the fight to survive is even more difficult.
This film, produced by the International Bank, shows the effects of river blindness -- and the beginnings of a major effort to stem it. At the moment, large areas of the delta are being treated with insecticide. In jungle areas, helicopters are used to spray inaccessible streams.
Careful experimentation has resulted in the evolution of an insecticide which deals effectively with the black fly lavae, without harming other forms of plant or animal life.
Human vaccination, however, still presents a problem. Effective vaccines now in use still yield side-effects such as severe itching and while it is possible to treat the infection under clinical supervision, it remains difficult to persuade village people to continue treating themselves. However work is continuing in an effort to find a more acceptable treatment. It will take perhaps twenty years to control river blindness.