Onchocerciasis in Mozambique: An Unknown Condition for Health Professionals

EC Microbiol. 2019 Mar;15(3):160-167.


Introduction: Onchocerciasis, remains an unfamiliar condition for health professionals in Mozambique leading to its misdiagnosis as leprosy or scabies as noted in previous studies. Meta-analyses conducted in some African countries, have concluded that onchocerciasis is associated with epilepsy and nodding syndrome. Epilepsy affects at least 3% of the Mozambican population.

Aim: We aim to discuss the possible misdiagnosis of scabies and/or leprosy in cases of onchocerciasis as well as insights into a putative role for onchocerciasis in the etiology of epilepsy. Based on these issues, we also highlight some priorities for future onchocerciasis research.

Methods: We carried out a literature review of the epidemiology of onchocerciasis in Mozambique and other parts of the world where the disease exists, its clinical features, and information on the prevalence of epilepsy, scabies and leprosy in Mozambique.

Results and conclusions: A number of studies (1997 - 2007) revealed that onchocerciasis is present in at least five provinces of Mozambique, comprising 47% of the country's population, and at least three provinces of Mozambique where onchocerciasis has been reported are those where the incidence of leprosy is also high. This increases the possibility that onchocerciasis cases could be misdiagnosed as leprosy or scabies, as seen in previous studies by Noormahomed., et al. In addition, onchocerciasis may contribute to the development of epilepsy at an early age, as has been found in some other African countries such as Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.Mozambique is not included in many epidemiological maps of onchocerciasis prevalence, while Tanzania and Malawi are listed as endemic countries and have well established community drug treatment with ivermectin, probably because the disease was considered hypoendemic in previous studies. Research should be carried out in focal areas to determine the burden and clinical features of onchocercal disease in Mozambique, as well as, the socio and economic impact of disease in the affected patients and communities. With these data in hand, it will also be possible to assess the possible association of onchocerciasis with epilepsy in Mozambique. It will be equally important to train health professionals in the diagnosis and management of this neglected and poverty-related disease.

Keywords: Epilepsy; Leprosy; Misdiagnosis; Mozambique; Onchocerciasis; Scabies; Simulium spp.