According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, the condition is an eye and skin disease caused by a worm known scientifically as Onchocerca volvulus.
“It is transmitted to humans through the bite of a blackfly (simulium species). These flies breed in fast-flowing streams and rivers, increasing the risk of blindness to individuals living nearby, hence the commonly known name of river blindness,” the organisation said on its website.
People living in that part of the country mostly depended on farming as their main source of income generation. One of them said for over 10 years they had been suffering from the disease but noted that the river was the only source of water for domestic use and a major source of revenue.
A victim of the river blindness, Mohamed Koroma, said he started experiencing signs and symptoms of the disease in March 2015. He said initially he felt like something was moving in his eyes and so he would call of people to help him look for it.
“I also felt like some earth warms were moving in my head. The veins on the head would stand out prominently and soon after that tears would start flowing from my eyes. When this happens I can’t see properly with my right eye,” he explained, adding that he had gone to the eye clinic in Lunsar but left without treatment because he couldn’t afford Le 200,000 to pay for the spectacles prescribed for him.
He said until very recently the village had no hand-dug wells where they could fetch water for drinking and other domestic chores, adding that they had no choice but to fetch water from the river.
He said children would have to be dressed in long sleeves and trousers just to prevent them from being bitten by the black flies.
Koroma said the ministry was aware of their situation and that it was them who told the community people about the dangers of living with the black flies.