Advancing Global Efforts: GONE – The Global Onchocerciasis Network for Elimination

Gathering more than 150 dedicated partners, the Global Onchocerciasis Network for Elimination (GONE) convened for its inaugural meeting on November 1 and 2, 2023, in Mbour, Senegal. This important event aimed to foster collaboration among countries and organizations to collectively address the challenge of onchocerciasis and progress toward its elimination.

Understanding Onchocerciasis

Onchocerciasis, commonly known as river blindness, is the second leading infectious cause of blindness, primarily affecting individuals in underserved regions. It is a neglected tropical disease, causing severe skin irritation, visual impairment, and, in advanced cases, irreversible blindness. Spread by black flies residing near fast-flowing rivers, onchocerciasis has impacted over 244 million people across 31 countries globally, with Africa home to 99% of those affected. Notably, four countries—Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico—have been verified by the World Health Organization (WHO) for successfully eliminating the transmission of this disease.

Collaborative Efforts and Significant Milestones

For decades, a global coalition has worked tirelessly to combat river blindness. By implementing control and elimination strategies, significant progress has been made. This progress has encouraged the transition from disease control to transmission elimination as a public health issue, leading to the submission of verification dossiers to WHO from several countries, notably Niger and Senegal.

Key Initiatives and Partnerships

Regional initiatives such as the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA), the Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP) in West Africa, the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC), and the Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN) have significantly contributed to the sustained distribution of ivermectin, a critical intervention in combatting onchocerciasis. Additionally, the Mectizan Donation Program, established by MSD, has been pivotal in providing the necessary medication to endemic countries.

Mission of the GONE Network

The Global Onchocerciasis Network for Elimination has been established to empower countries to accelerate their efforts in achieving the onchocerciasis elimination targets outlined in the WHO NTD roadmap for 2030. Its primary objectives include enhancing communications, fostering partnerships, and supporting nations in their pursuit of these vital objectives.

The GONE Outlook and Approach

The network aims to endorse and emphasize public–private partnerships to secure adequate funding for intervention implementation and to identify challenges and develop solutions to expedite elimination. By placing significant emphasis on innovative approaches, including new diagnostics and treatments, GONE aspires to address the diverse challenges associated with onchocerciasis, particularly the issue of Loa loa coinfection and surveillance.

Positive Impact and Call for Support

Investment in combating neglected tropical diseases, including onchocerciasis, has been hailed as a “best buy” in global health, with treatments costing less than US$ 0.50 per person. These efforts have not only positively impacted health but also contributed to improved education and employment outcomes in affected communities.

Advocacy and Cross-cutting Approach

GONE experts stress the importance of an integrated, cross-cutting approach and aim to position the network as an influential advocacy body, both at the national and international levels. The initiative seeks to provide the necessary support for countries to achieve the targets set in the NTD roadmap.

GONE: A Country-Driven Initiative

Launched in January 2023, the Global Onchocerciasis Network for Elimination is a country-driven initiative supported by the WHO, prioritizing flexibility and practicality to meet the specific requirements of national programs.

About Onchocerciasis

Onchocerciasis, or river blindness, is a severe ailment primarily affecting impoverished communities in remote areas. Transmitted by black flies near rivers, it causes skin irritation, visual impairment, and, in advanced stages, permanent blindness.

GONE’s primary objective is to unite countries and partners in intensifying efforts to eliminate onchocerciasis, aiming to positively impact global health and socioeconomic conditions.

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