Scientists William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura have won a shared 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discoveries that helped stop blinding parasitic infections around the world.
River blindness, or Onchocerciasis, is caused by the roundworm parasite found in swift moving water rivers and streams. For many years, the disease haunted parts of Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 18 million people are infected and 270,000 blinded by parasite. Without treatment, approximately half of all those infected would become blind.
The drug ivermectin that the two men helped discover drastically cut the transmission rate of river blindness. In 2013, Colombia was verified as free of the parasitic infection, followed by Ecuador in 2014. Other countries such as Mexico are expected to eradicate the disease in the near future.
According to the Nobel Committee, the 2015 recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually. The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable.”
The Nobel committee also awarded part of the prize to Youyou Tu, who discovered a drug that reduces mortality from malaria.
Hugh R. Taylor, M.D., President of the International Council of Ophthalmology predicted that the new drug avermectin would end river blindness during his 2012 talk at a symposium held by the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Museum of Vision.