When I arrived in Burkina Faso in 1978 there was an ongoing effort to eradicate river blindness, a desease that left some villages with 30 percent of the adults blind and which affects the sight of 800,000 people worldwide. It infected the most fertile areas of that arid country which suffers from famines, causing people to move away from desperately needed farmland. It drove people away from rivers and the nessecary water they provide. The decades of effort and tens of millions of dollars spent fighting River Blindness had only modest success. River blindness persisted.
But William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura discovered a drug for which they were awarded the 2015 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine. This new drug radically lowered the incidence of River Blindness. Better, it also treated many other debilitating parasitic deseases which cause suffering in some of the world’s poorest communities. For a very small fraction of the cost of previous eradication efforts and a much higher success rate people could take this drug only once a year with few side effets and they would never go blind. It’s been rightly called a miracle drug.
People no longer feared living in areas with adequate water and where the ground could produce enough food. Better yet, people can use this drug to get rid of worms and other parasites in their farm animals, such as the donkeys which pull carts for those farmers too poor to own a truck which is almost all of them. The Nobel committee said that the drug “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.”
It has been called one of the most important drugs ever discovered, along with penicillin and aspirin. It is estimated that humans have taken between 3 and 4 billions doses of it.
The wonder drug Campbell and Omura discovered, in a slightly different form, is Ivermectin – the drug being derogatorily called a “horse dewormer” in the US press because, on top of its many marvelous properties, it deworms horses too.