About 18 million people have river blindness worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, but more than 99% of cases of this disease are found in Africa. It goes by the technical name "onchocerciasis," and it spreads through small black flies that breed in fast-flowing, highly oxygenated waters. When an infected fly bites a person, it drops worm larvae in the skin, which can then grow and reproduce in the body.
There is no vaccine for river blindness, but there is a drug, called ivermectin that paralyzes and kills the offspring of adult worms, according to the Mayo Clinic. It may also slow the reproduction of adult female worms, so there are fewer of them in the skin, blood and eyes. The pharmaceutical company Merck has been donating the treatment, under the brand name Mectizan, since 1985.