Modelling the impact of ivermectin on River Blindness and its burden of morbidity and mortality in African Savannah: EpiOncho projections

Parasit Vectors. 2014 May 26:7:241. doi: 10.1186/1756-3305-7-241.


Background: The African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) has refocused its goals on the elimination of infection where possible, seemingly achievable by 15-17 years of annual mass distribution of ivermectin in some African foci. Previously, APOC had focused on the elimination of onchocerciasis as a public health problem. Timeframes have been set by the World Health Organization, the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases and the World Bank to achieve these goals by 2020-2025.

Methods: A novel mathematical model of the dynamics of onchocercal disease is presented which links documented associations between Onchocerca volvulus infection and the prevalence and incidence of morbidity and mortality to model outputs from our host age- and sex-structured onchocerciasis transmission framework (EpiOncho). The model is calibrated for African savannah settings, and used to assess the impact of long-term annual mass administration of ivermectin on infection and ocular and skin disease and to explore how this depends on epidemiological and programmatic variables.

Results: Current onchocerciasis disease projections, which do not account for excess mortality of sighted individuals with heavy microfilarial loads, underestimate disease burden. Long-term annual ivermectin treatment is highly effective at reducing both the morbidity and mortality associated with onchocerciasis, and this result is not greatly influenced by treatment coverage and compliance. By contrast, impact on microfilarial prevalence and intensity is highly dependent on baseline endemicity, treatment coverage and systematic non-compliance.

Conclusions: The goals of eliminating morbidity and infection with ivermectin alone are distinctly influenced by epidemiological and programmatic factors. Whilst the former goal is most certainly achievable, reaching the latter will strongly depend on initial endemicity (the higher the endemicity, the greater the magnitude of inter-treatment transmission), advising caution when generalising the applicability of successful elimination outcomes to other areas. The proportion of systematic non-compliers will become far more influential in terms of overall success in achieving elimination goals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa / epidemiology
  • Anthelmintics / therapeutic use*
  • Blindness / epidemiology
  • Blindness / parasitology*
  • Blindness / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Ivermectin / therapeutic use*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Onchocerciasis, Ocular / drug therapy*
  • Onchocerciasis, Ocular / epidemiology
  • Onchocerciasis, Ocular / mortality
  • Time Factors


  • Anthelmintics
  • Ivermectin