Recently, there has been a shift in onchocerciasis control policy, changing from prevention of morbidity toward elimination of infection. Switching from annual to biannual ivermectin distribution may accelerate progress toward the elimination goals. However, the settings where this strategy would be cost effective in Africa have not been described.
Onchocerciasis is a debilitating neglected tropical disease caused by infection with the filarial parasite Onchocerca volvulus. Adult worms live in subcutaneous tissues and produce large numbers of microfilariae that migrate to the skin and eyes. The disease is spread by black flies of the genus Simulium following ingestion of microfilariae that develop into infective stage larvae in the insect. Currently, transmission is monitored by capture and dissection of black flies and microscopic examination of parasites, or using the polymerase chain reaction to determine the presence of parasite DNA in pools of black flies. In this study we identified a new DNA biomarker, encoding O. volvulus glutathione S-transferase 1a (OvGST1a), to detect O. volvulus infection in vector black flies. We developed an OvGST1a-based loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) assay where amplification of specific target DNA is detectable using turbidity or by a hydroxy naphthol blue color change. The results indicated that the assay is sensitive and rapid, capable of detecting DNA equivalent to less than one microfilaria within 60 minutes. The test is highly specific for the human parasite, as no cross-reaction was detected using DNA from the closely related and sympatric cattle parasite Onchocerca ochengi. The test has the potential to be developed further as a field tool for use in the surveillance of transmission before and after implementation of mass drug administration programs for onchocerciasis.
It has been proposed that switching from annual to biannual (twice yearly) mass community-directed treatment with ivermectin (CDTI) might improve the chances of onchocerciasis elimination in some African foci. However, historically, relatively few communities have received biannual treatments in Africa, and there are no cost data associated with increasing ivermectin treatment frequency at a large scale. Collecting cost data is essential for conducting economic evaluations of control programmes. Some countries, such as Ghana, have adopted a biannual treatment strategy in selected districts. We undertook a study to estimate the costs associated with annual and biannual CDTI in Ghana.
Recent studies in Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal have indicated that annual (or biannual) ivermectin distribution may lead to local elimination of human onchocerciasis in certain African foci. Modelling-based projections have been used to estimate the required duration of ivermectin distribution to reach elimination. A crucial assumption has been that microfilarial production by Onchocerca volvulus is reduced irreversibly by 30-35% with each (annual) ivermectin round. However, other modelling-based analyses suggest that ivermectin may not have such a cumulative effect. Uncertainty in this (biological) and other (programmatic) assumptions would affect projected outcomes of long-term ivermectin treatment.
Simulium damnosum s.l., the most important vector of onchocerciasis in Africa, is a complex of sibling species that have been described on the basis of differences in their larval polytene chromosomes. These (cyto) species differ in their geographical distributions, ecologies and epidemiological roles. In Ghana, distributional changes have been recorded as a consequence of vector control and environmental change (e.g. deforestation), with potential disease consequences. We review the distribution of cytospecies in southern Ghana and report changes observed with reference to historical data collated from 1971 to 2005 and new identifications made between 2006 and 2011.
Ivermectin (IVM) has been used in Ghana for over two decades for onchocerciasis control. In recent years there have been reports of persistent microfilaridermias despite multiple treatments. This has necessitated a reexamination of its microfilaricidal and suppressive effects on reproduction in the adult female Onchocerca volvulus. In an initial study, we demonstrated the continued potent microfilaricidal effect of IVM. However, we also found communities in which the skin microfilarial repopulation rates at days 90 and 180 were much higher than expected. In this follow up study we have investigated the reproductive response of female worms to multiple treatments with IVM.
Identification of drug resistance before it becomes a public health concern requires a clear distinction between what constitutes a normal and a suboptimal treatment response. A novel method of analyzing drug efficacy studies in human helminthiases is proposed and used to investigate recent claims of atypical responses to ivermectin in the treatment of River Blindness. The variability in the rate at which Onchocerca volvulus microfilariae repopulate hosts skin following ivermectin treatment is quantified using an individual-based onchocerciasis mathematical model. The model estimates a single skin repopulation rate for every host sampled, allowing reports of suboptimal responses to be statistically compared with responses from populations with no prior exposure to ivermectin. Statistically faster rates of skin repopulation were observed in 3 Ghanaian villages (treated 12-17 times), despite the wide variability in repopulation rates observed in ivermectin-naïve populations. Another village previously thought to have high rates of skin repopulation was shown to be indistinguishable from the normal treatment response. The model is used to generate testable hypotheses to identify whether atypical rates of skin repopulation by microfilariae could result from low treatment coverage alone or provide evidence of decreased ivermectin efficacy. Further work linking phenotypic poor responses to treatment with parasite molecular genetics markers will be required to confirm drug resistance. Limitations of the skin-snipping method for estimating parasite load indicates that changes in the distribution of microfilarial repopulation rates, rather than their absolute values, maybe a more sensitive indicator of emerging ivermectin resistance.
Since 1987 onchocerciasis control has relied on the donation of ivermectin (Mectizan(R), Merck & Co., Inc.) through the Mectizan Donation Programme. Recently, concern has been raised over the appearance of suboptimal responses to ivermectin in Ghana - highlighting the potential threat of the development of resistance to ivermectin. This report summarises a meeting held in Ghana to set the research agenda for future onchocerciasis control. The aim of this workshop was to define the research priorities for alternative drug and treatment regimes and control strategies to treat populations with existing evidence of suboptimal responsiveness and define research priorities for future control strategies in the event of the development of widespread ivermectin resistance.
Capacity building in health research generally, and helminthiasis research particularly, is pivotal to the implementation of the research and development agenda for the control and elimination of human helminthiases that has been proposed thematically in the preceding reviews of this collection. Since helminth infections affect human populations particularly in marginalised and low-income regions of the world, they belong to the group of poverty-related infectious diseases, and their alleviation through research, policy, and practice is a sine qua non condition for the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Current efforts supporting research capacity building specifically for the control of helminthiases have been devised and funded, almost in their entirety, by international donor agencies, major funding bodies, and academic institutions from the developed world, contributing to the creation of (not always equitable) North-South "partnerships". There is an urgent need to shift this paradigm in disease-endemic countries (DECs) by refocusing political will, and harnessing unshakeable commitment by the countries governments, towards health research and capacity building policies to ensure long-term investment in combating and sustaining the control and eventual elimination of infectious diseases of poverty. The Disease Reference Group on Helminth Infections (DRG4), established in 2009 by the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), was given the mandate to review helminthiases research and identify research priorities and gaps. This paper discusses the challenges confronting capacity building for parasitic disease research in DECs, describes current capacity building strategies with particular reference to neglected tropical diseases and human helminthiases, and outlines recommendations to redress the balance of alliances and partnerships for health research between the developed countries of the "North" and the developing countries of the "South". We argue that investing in South-South collaborative research policies and capacity is as important as their North-South counterparts and is essential for scaled-up and improved control of helminthic diseases and ultimately for regional elimination.
Human helminthiases are of considerable public health importance in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The acknowledgement of the disease burden due to helminth infections, the availability of donated or affordable drugs that are mostly safe and moderately efficacious, and the implementation of viable mass drug administration (MDA) interventions have prompted the establishment of various large-scale control and elimination programmes. These programmes have benefited from improved epidemiological mapping of the infections, better understanding of the scope and limitations of currently available diagnostics and of the relationship between infection and morbidity, feasibility of community-directed or school-based interventions, and advances in the design of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) protocols. Considerable success has been achieved in reducing morbidity or suppressing transmission in a number of settings, whilst challenges remain in many others. Some of the obstacles include the lack of diagnostic tools appropriate to the changing requirements of ongoing interventions and elimination settings; the reliance on a handful of drugs about which not enough is known regarding modes of action, modes of resistance, and optimal dosage singly or in combination; the difficulties in sustaining adequate coverage and compliance in prolonged and/or integrated programmes; an incomplete understanding of the social, behavioural, and environmental determinants of infection; and last, but not least, very little investment in research and development (R&D). The Disease Reference Group on Helminth Infections (DRG4), established in 2009 by the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), was given the mandate to undertake a comprehensive review of recent advances in helminthiases research, identify research gaps, and rank priorities for an R&D agenda for the control and elimination of these infections. This review presents the processes undertaken to identify and rank ten top research priorities; discusses the implications of realising these priorities in terms of their potential for improving global health and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); outlines salient research funding needs; and introduces the series of reviews that follow in this PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases collection, "A Research Agenda for Helminth Diseases of Humans."
Successful and sustainable intervention against human helminthiases depends on optimal utilisation of available control measures and development of new tools and strategies, as well as an understanding of the evolutionary implications of prolonged intervention on parasite populations and those of their hosts and vectors. This will depend largely on updated knowledge of relevant and fundamental parasite biology. There is a need, therefore, to exploit and apply new knowledge and techniques in order to make significant and novel gains in combating helminthiases and supporting the sustainability of current and successful mass drug administration (MDA) programmes. Among the fields of basic research that are likely to yield improved control tools, the Disease Reference Group on Helminth Infections (DRG4) has identified four broad areas that stand out as central to the development of the next generation of helminth control measures: 1) parasite genetics, genomics, and functional genomics; 2) parasite immunology; 3) (vertebrate) host-parasite interactions and immunopathology; and 4) (invertebrate) host-parasite interactions and transmission biology. The DRG4 was established in 2009 by the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR). The Group was given the mandate to undertake a comprehensive review of recent advances in helminthiases research in order to identify notable gaps and highlight priority areas. This paper summarises recent advances and discusses challenges in the investigation of the fundamental biology of those helminth parasites under the DRG4 Groups remit according to the identified priorities, and presents a research and development agenda for basic parasite research and enabling technologies that will help support control and elimination efforts against human helminthiases.
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