Background: Onchocerciasis is a neglected tropical disease which is still of immense major public health concern in several areas of Africa and the Americas. The disease manifests either as ocular or as dermal onchocerciasis with several symptoms including itching, nodules, skin thickening, visual impairment and blindness. Ivermectin has been an efficient microfilaricide against the causative agent of the disease (Onchocerca volvulus) but reports from some areas in Africa suggest the development of resistance to this drug. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of onchocerciasis and associated clinical conditions frequently associated with the disease in three endemic communities in Ghana which have been subjected to 18 to 20 rounds of mass drug administration of ivermectin. This was to help determine whether or not onchocerciasis persists in these communities.
Methods: A cross-sectional study design was adopted. Three communities (Tanfiano, Senya and Kokompe) in the Nkoranza North District of Ghana where mass drug administration of ivermectin had been ongoing for more than two decades were selected for the study. The population was randomly sampled and 114 participants recruited for the study based on the eligibility criteria. The study participants were examined for the presence of parasites and clinical manifestations of onchocerciasis following established protocols.
Results: The study showed that the prevalence of microfilaria in the Tanfiano, Senya, Kokompe communities were 13.2, 2.4, and 2.9%, with nodule prevalence being 5.3, 4.9 and 14.3% respectively. Females in the study communities had a higher prevalence of microfilaria carriers (5.17%) relative to males (2.44%), but this difference was not statistically significant (p = 0.2800, unpaired t test). The most frequent clinical manifestation observed in this study among all participants was dermatitis (25.4%), followed by visual impairment & nodules (7.9% each) and then by blindness (4.4%).
Conclusion: The study showed that despite several years of mass drug administration with ivermectin, infection with onchocerciasis and the commonly associated clinical manifestations of the disease still persist in the study communities. This calls for a greater urgency for research and development aimed at discovering new or repurposed anti-filarial agents which will augment ivermectin if global onchocerciasis eradication targets are to be achieved.
Keywords: Dermatitis; Hypoendemic areas; Neglected tropical disease; Nodules; Ocular onchocerciasis; Onchocerciasis.