‘Slash and clear’ vector control for onchocerciasis elimination and epilepsy prevention: a protocol of a cluster randomised trial in Cameroonian villages

11 Nov 2021

Introduction Onchocerciasis, caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus, remains endemic in Cameroon despite decades of community-directed treatment with ivermectin (CDTI). CDTI is often hampered by coendemicity with loiasis (another filariasis caused by Loa loa) in some areas. Strong epidemiological evidence suggests that O. volvulus infection increases the risk for onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy (OAE) among Cameroonian children. This highlights the urgent need to strengthen onchocerciasis elimination programmes in mesoendemic/hyperendemic areas. Novel alternative strategies, such as the ‘slash and clear’ (S&C) vector control method, may be required to complement ongoing CDTI to accelerate elimination of transmission. The short-term impact of S&C on the biting rates of the blackfly vectors has been demonstrated in other settings. However, its long-term effectiveness and impact on parasitological and serological markers of onchocerciasis transmission as well as on OAE are still unknown.

Methods and analysis We aim to assess the effectiveness of annual S&C interventions combined with CDTI in reducing onchocerciasis transmission and epilepsy incidence. Eight onchocerciasis-endemic villages located <5 km from the Mbam or Sanaga rivers will be randomised to two arms: four villages will receive yearly CDTI only for two consecutive years (Arm 1), while the other four villages will receive CDTI plus annual S&C for 2 years (Arm 2). Study outcomes (blackfly biting rates, infectivity rates and seroprevalence of onchocerciasis antibodies (Ov16 antibodies) in children, prevalence of microfilaridermia and epilepsy incidence) will be monitored prospectively and compared across study arms. We expect that S&C will have an added benefit over CDTI alone.

Ethics and dissemination The protocol has received ethical approval from the institutional review board of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board (reference number: IRB2021-03) and has been registered with the Pan African Clinical Trials Registry. Findings will be disseminated at national and international levels via meetings and peer-reviewed publications.