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River Blindness Becoming Drug Resistant

p call that any parasite-control program that relies on a single antimicrobial agent is always at risk of derailment,'' wrote Dr. Peter J. Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, in an accompanying commentary in The Lancet. Hotez was not linked to the study.

Officials said there were currently there are 18 million cases in 36 countries worldwide, including in tropical regions of the Americas. Every year, public health officials give out more than 20 million doses of ivermectin, used to treat river blindness since 1987. Experts estimate the drug has prevented nearly 40,000 cases of blindness a year. To date, nearly $600 million has been spent trying to eliminate river blindness from the world.

``It's not surprising that we're seeing some drug resistance,'' Hotez said. ``You can't rely on a single tool without any backup.'' The emerging problem of resistance to this drug underlines the need to find new drugs and possibly even vaccines, he said.

Experts have acknowledged that relying exclusively on ivermectin was not the best strategy. ``It's been taken for granted for years that the river blindness problem has been solved because we have ivermectin,'' Prichard said. ``But the problem has not been solved. We need another drug.''


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