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Ugandan doctor co-finds new River blindness drug

KAMPALA. Ugandan doctor Amos Nyathirombo is celebrating a scientific milestone after a six-year World Health Organisation-led research he co-participated in found a more effective River Blindness drug.

The United States Food and Drug Administration agency announced last Saturday that it had approved Moxidectin 8 mg Oral for the treatment of River Blindness in patients aged 12 years or older.

This followed a break-through by Dr Nyathirombo and 18 other doctors in four African countries who found that Moxidectin, previously a veterinary medicine, was more effective in treating River Blindness than Ivermectin which is in common use.

Their findings were published in the respected medical journal, Lancet, in January, this year. The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and WHO Special Programme for Research and Training Tropical Diseases financed the study.

“As an individual, I am very happy for my contribution in developing medicine for mankind,” Dr Nyathirombo, a lecturer in the department of Ophthalmology at Gulu University, told Daily Monitor by telephone yesterday.

He added: “This drug was being used as a veterinary drug to de-worm domestic animals, but when we realised that it could help treat River Blindness, we decided to take to the laboratory for further studies.”

Their study conducted in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Ghana compared the efficacy and effectiveness of Ivermectin and Moxidectin and discovered that the latter killed the River Blindness worms in the eyes and skin faster in humans.
River Blindness is caused by a parasitic worm, Onchocerca volvulus.

The disease manifests as severe itching, disfiguring skin conditions and visual impairment, including permanent blindness, caused by the worm’s larvae (microfilariae), according to WHO.

Dr Nyathirombo said yesterday the new drug manufactured by US pharmaceutical company, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals will help Uganda to eliminate River Blindness earlier than the 2020 target year.

Uganda in 2007 set 2015 as the year to eliminate the disease in focal areas and in the whole country by 2020. River blindness prevalence currently stands at 5 per cent, down from 70 per cent in 1993.

How the drug works

The new drug, Moxidectin, is a macrocyclic lactone anthelmintic medicine that selectively binds to the parasite’s glutamate-gated chloride ion channels. These channels are vital to the function of invertebrate nerve and muscle cells. Moxidectin has activity against O. volvulus microfilariae but does not kill adult O. volvulus parasites.
Source: Lancet

About Dr Nyathirombo

Born in Zombo District, Dr Nyathirombo, 52, is an eye specialist and lecturer in the Department of Ophthalmology at Gulu University. He previously lectured at Makerere University after working at Arua Regional Referral Hospital and Nyapea Hospital.

He studied at St Aloysius College Nyapea and Namilyango College, and holds a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery as well as a Master’s of Medicine Ophthalmology degree. Dr Nyathirombo is also a fellow of the East African College of Ophthalmology.

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