Eliminating ‘river blindness’ with ivermectin
Published on: Sunday, June 27, 2021
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Fast flowing rivers – breeding ground of vector Blackfly.
IVERMECTIN has been labelled one of the Triumvirate of human drugs – that is, ranked top three among all time, all-important essential drugs in human history, along with penicillin and aspirin.

In fact, it has been dosed to humans all over the world 3.7 billion times, especially in poverty-stricken African countries as an anti-parasitic to treat river blindness, with little or no side effects since WHO first approved it for human use in 1987.  

Yet, it is almost unheard of by most people – myself included.

In Malaysia, it surfaced to public awareness only last week when the Malaysian Alliance for Effective Covid Control called on the Government to approve it for use against Covid-19. 

They argued that Malaysia can bring the Pandemic down in six weeks if ivermectin were approved for widespread use, under proper protocols of course. So far the Government has not taken a position but who knows – they may be looking at its possibility.

I first heard about it months ago, when I chanced upon its key advocate – American Dr Pierre Kory who claimed bedside success treatment on Covid with ivermectin.

But I became particularly curious last week when he told video host Dr Bret Weinstein that the drug was responsible for eliminating “river blindness”  almost entirely now from Africa.     

This Special Report is not on Dr Kory’s claim of success with ivermectin on Covid but how ivermectin has extinguished preventable river blindness which afflicted millions with total blindness, in Latin America and Africa, and yet nobody seem to be aware of it.

Terminating river blindness crisis with ‘wonder drug’   

Maybe this raises enough eyebrows, too, for people who matter to take ivermectin seriously, just as most do with penicillin and aspirin.

Just look at the pictures here from Africa. Let the horror and plight of its victims sink in – then perhaps we realise elimination of the root cause of any disease of a global nature is the best bet and look at this option without mendacity.

And the “Terminator” of river blindness from Latin America is what some call “wonder drug” ivermectin.

This is the horror and terrible impact of permanent blindness from river blindness on its victims typified by opaque eyeballs!

The terrible affliction starts with a bite of the Blackfly which carries the wormy parasite Oncocerca volvulus.     

Their larvae migrate to organs and to the eye, infesting it with the parasite.

What cause the eyes to go opaque resulting in total loss of vision? 

The straight answer is inflammation caused by the microscopic larvae dying in the eye which develop small opaque spots on the cornea, the cornea becomes permanently cloudy and all the anatomical parts of the eye, including the optic nerve, are damaged, leading to irreversible blindness.    

Nerves paralysed, replication stopped

Millions of Africans were afflicted – a real crisis especially in poverty handcuffed Africa.

But nobody knew how to eliminate its devastating suffering until human clinical trials in 1981 found just single doses of the white pill proved effective in paralysing the nerve and muscle cells of the parasitic Oncocerca volvulus larvae, in addition to making the immature worms vulnerable to attacks by the human immune system, and stops the adult female in the body from releasing larvae.          

In short, once Ivermectin gets in there, it just stops the blindness causing parasitic worm from replication thus preventing and eliminating river blindness.      

Because of its successful clinical trials, WHO approved Ivermectin for human use in 1987 – which answers queries by many who had asked whether a drug designed to treat animals is effective and safe for use on humans.     

Fate of 218 million hangs on ivermectin   

But the world should keep themselves posted on Ivermectin.  

Why? In 2018, WHO estimated that 218 million people worldwide were in need of ivermectin treatment for river blindness. 

That’s a lot of people who, like Covid 19, are victims of a terrible infectious diseases.    

WHO reports more than 99pc of infected people live in 31 African countries, 1pc in four Latin American countries and Yemen.

Lucky for the millions who have been infected but not yet blinded, WHO had approved its treatment on humans with ivermectin since 1987. 

Verified free of river blindness after ivermectin  

To eliminate or extinguish river blindness in Africa, Community Directed Treatment with ivermectin (DDTI) is the core strategy.

This strategy carried out under the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (Apoc) uses trained volunteers to deliver ivermectin plus-plus to neglected, end-of-the-road communities which raised therapeutic and geographical coverage to a scale required to eliminate river blindness.      

In Latin America, the strategy is biannual large-scale treatment with ivermectin.

Amazing – just two single doses of ivermectin per year worked!

The good news is in July, 2016, Guatemala became the 4th country in the world after Columbia (2013), Ecuador (2014) and Mexico (2015) to be verified free of river blindness (onchocerciasis) after successfully implementing elimination activities for decades!

This is the ardent wish of the world right now. 

Health intervention with a real goal to eliminate the disease with real results is the only public wish and benefit. 

For victims of onchocerciasis who have already lost vision totally, how they wished ivermectin was discovered 100 years ago.

But for the 218 million who are infected but stand confident they will not go blind, they should pay tribute to at least three key persons and one company who made ivermectin possible.

Interesting story on three heavy weights behind ivermectin 

This is a very interesting ground breaking story from discovery to the day when a very potent yet safe triumvirate drug was developed.

Shatoshi Omura, Prof William Campbell and Roy Vagelos are the heavy weights behind this top all-time most essential medicine.   

Golfers, mirco biologists, chemists, veterinarians would love it.   

Joint Nobel Prize for Omura and Campbell

For their ground-breaking discoveries, Omura and Prof Campbell together won one half of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine while the other half went to China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine guru Tu Youyou for her discoveries on a novel therapy against malaria. 

Prof Campbell, An American citizen of Irish origin, apparently developed an early childhood interest in livestock diseases because he grew up in his father’s livestock farm in Ireland.     

To cut the story short, Campbell eventually became a lead parasitologist at pharmaceutical giant Merck Research Lab in New Jersey.   

Omura’s soil digging exploits

Satoshi Omura, a microbiologist and bio-organic chemist at Tokyo’s Kitasato Research Institute, was apparently a member of the Kawana Golf Club 80 miles southwest of Tokyo.   

Golfing aside, Omura spent huge hours in the 60s going around Japan digging up soil samples for bacteria to look for  promising medicinal compounds.

In 1971, Omura went for a Sabbatical at Wesleyan University Lab where the man in charge was eminent chemist Professor Max Tishler who had just retired from Merck. 

Before returning to Japan, Omura got Merck and Kitasato Institute to sign a pioneering agreement.

The partnership deal  

The partnership deal was this: 

Omura would keep on collecting soil samples, screen and culture bacteria from them and send the most promising culture samples to Merck Lab for test and drug development. 

Kitasato Institute would get royalties for any products that were commercialised through the partnership.

Little did Omura and Prof Campbell expect that earth-shaking product would be Ivermectin which proved to be 25 times more potent than existing parasitic worms!

The decisive soil sample from Tokyo Golf Course

This ground breaking discovery has made the Kawana Golf Club 133km southwest of Tokyo famous because that’s the only soil sample where the bacterium Streptomyces avermectinius was ever found and never again elsewhere!

Spurred on by this euphoria, further testing by Merck showed that ivermectin was also potent against infestations by mites, ticks, botfly parasites that caused billions of economic losses in the livestock industry. All the way, it was also proved potent against parasites in horses, cattle, pigs, sheep and dogs and at the same time largely non-toxic to these animals– a very versatile and harmless drug indeed. 

What stuns the world

This is what stuns the world: From the compounds of a lowly bacterium Omura unearthed in a golf course in Japan, Campbell developed ivermactin that destroys parasites from countless pets and farm animals, prevent losses in the billions of dollars worldwide.  

Of course Prof Campbell and Merck team deserve a big clap because when they isolated the active component they named “avermectin”, they found it is actually a combination of eight closely related compounds.

Avermectin per se wasn’t potent or even safe.

They had to chemically modify, pulled and pushed its molecular structure slightly around and synthesised thousands of similar compounds. 

Found 25 times more potent and safer!

It was only after all these slight chemical modifications that Campbell found one mixture which was 25 times more potent and safer too for animals and named derivative “ivermectin”.        

At about the same time, river blindness was devastating Africa. The cause was also a parasitic roundworm.

The vector being the blackfly which transmits the worm’s larvae which matures in the body where the adult females release thousands of microscopic larvae some of which end up in the eyes where inflammation caused by these dying larvae develop small opaque spots on the cornea, clouding all parts of the eyes and cause irreversible blindness.

The parasitic cause and effects are the same in animals and humans.         

Given its proven effectiveness and safety of ivermectin on livestock, Campbell thought it would work in humans too.

The day WHO approved ivermectin for human use 

At Campbell’s urging, scientists at Merck studied ivermectin as a potential treatment of river blindness in humans.

As noted earlier, human clinical trials in Senegal in 1981 when they found single doses of the pill proved effective against river blindness and ivermectin was approved for human use in 1987 by WHO under the name Metizan. 

But this is the good humanitarian story. 

Since most victims of river blindness live in poverty handcuffed countries of Africa and Latin America, then Merck CEO, Roy Vagelos announced the company would donate “as much as needed, for as long as needed,” with the goal to help eliminate river blindness, after recognising that these patients would not be able to afford it at any price and no donors were willing to pay for it. 

In the 11 countries covered by WHO’s Oncocerciasis Control Programme through the use of Community Directed Treatment with ivermectin together with vector control has led to virtual elimination of river blindness in Africa.

Because of its impact, safety and versatility, ivermectin has earned the title “wonder drug”. 

The question is: can ivermectin be used to extinguish the Covid-19 pandemic?


Horror of river blindness in Senegal – typified by opaque eyes caused by inflammation from dying larvae of round worms. 

Common sight in Africa in the past – child leading an adult permanently blinded by river blindness with a stick. Sad scenes like this are vanishing thanks to ivermectin which is eliminating river blindness. 

Shisato Omura (left) supervising the collection of soil sample in Kawana Golf Course, 80 miles southwest of Tokyo where he found the bacterium which contains the compounds from which ivermectin was developed. 

A characteristic symptom of river blindness – disfigured and extremely itchy leopard-like skin. 


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December 20, 2014