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Press Release 98/30






Rome, 12 May -- The rehabilitation of West African land freed from Onchocerciasis, will provide food and improved living conditions for some 17 million people, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today, announcing that an inter-country workshop on Sustainable Settlement and Development of Onco-Freed zones will be held from 25 through 28 May in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Onchocerciasis, commonly known as River Blindness, is caused by parasitic worms transmitted to humans by biting flies. Blindness often results when the larvae reach the eyes.

Today, River Blindness has virtually been eliminated as a public health problem and people are returning to the land in great numbers. "Where once the enemy was the black fly, today it is deforestation erosion and extensive cultivation," according to experts. Repopulation of these areas has been so rapid that measures are needed to conserve the already fragile ecosystems of the river valley.

The Onchocerciasis Control Programme was launched in 1974. It provided some $600 million over 20 years to control the flies that carry the larvae that cause the disease.

As a result of the intensive effort, about 25 million hectares of fertile land have been freed from River Blindness, which was both a major public health problem and an impediment to socio-economic development.

In advance of the Ouagadougou workshop, Felix Moukoko-Ndoumbe, FAO representative to the Committee of Sponsoring Agencies of the Onchocerciasis Control Programme in West Africa (FAO, WHO, UNDP and the World Bank) underlined the necessity for a concerted international effort to assure "the repopulation and sustainable development of the Oncho-freed zones."

The Ouagadougou workshop, which will produce a Global Strategy Statement and a Plan of Action, will prepare the ground for measures to assure the sustainable development of areas freed from Onchocerciasis. The plan will be based on local community participation, on follow-up measures in each country, on regional cooperation and on the assistance of the international community.

The workshop will also define the nature of support to be provided by the 11 countries concerned (Benin, Burkina Faso Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Togo, Senegal and Sierra Leone).

Participating in the Ouagadougou Workshop will be: the Committee of Sponsoring Agencies for the Onchocerciasis Control Programme in West Africa and the representatives of the eleven affected countries.

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