River Blindness: Mathematical Models for Control and Elimination
Human onchocerciasis (river blindness) is one of the few neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) whose control strategies have been informed by mathematical modelling. With the change in focus from elimination of the disease burden to elimination of Onchocerca volvulus, much remains to be done to refine, calibrate and validate existing models. Under the impetus of the NTD Modelling Consortium, the teams that developed EPIONCHO and ONCHOSIM have joined forces to compare and improve these frameworks to better assist ongoing elimination efforts. We review their current versions and describe how they are being used to address two key questions: (1) where can onchocerciasis be eliminated with current intervention strategies by 2020/2025? and (2) what alternative/complementary strategies could help to accelerate elimination where (1) cannot be achieved? The control and elimination of onchocerciasis from the African continent is at a crucial crossroad. The African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control closed at the end of 2015, and although a new platform for support and integration of NTD control has been launched, the disease will have to compete with a myriad of other national health priorities at a pivotal time in the road to elimination. However, never before had onchocerciasis control a better arsenal of intervention strategies as well as diagnostics. It is, therefore, timely to present two models of different geneses and modelling traditions as they come together to produce robust decision-support tools. We start by describing the structural and parametric assumptions of EPIONCHO and ONCHOSIM; we continue by summarizing the modelling of current treatment strategies with annual (or biannual) mass ivermectin distribution and introduce a number of alternative strategies, including other microfilaricidal therapies (such as moxidectin), macrofilaricidal (anti-wolbachial) treatments, focal vector control and the possibility of an onchocerciasis vaccine. We conclude by discussing challenges, opportunities and future directions.