The disease, also known as onchocerciasis, reduced agricultural activities in the past two decades as farmers fled riverine areas, but this flight abated when aid agencies started the immunization programme. Now, two-thirds of the way through, it could flounder.
With up to 36 percent of inhabitants of southern Borno contracting river blindness, the state has the country`s highest prevalence levels, and is considered "hyper-endemic", according to the Health Ministry`s National Onchocerciasis Control Programme.
"The flowing waters and good vegetation have endowed the southern part of Borno State with a paradoxical curse because these streams and vegetation which are good for cultivation have become breeding grounds for the black flies responsible for high cases of onchocerciasis in the region," Abubakar Galadima, World Health Organization`s African Programme on Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) coordinator in Borno State, told IRIN.
"River blindness has an adverse effect on food security in Borno State in that people in food-producing areas continue to move northwards, leaving behind their fertile land," he added.
At least 30,000 people have deserted their farms and villages to escape the disease over the past 20 years, while some 40,000 have been infected, according to statistics from the state`s onchocerciasis control programme.
The many rivers and fast-flowing streams provide an ideal breeding ground for the black fly, according to NGO Helen Keller International (HKI), which has been trying to treat the disease in Borno State for the past 11 years. The fly bites human skin then lays eggs which turn into tiny worms, which can cause discomfort and impaired vision in the sufferer, and ultimately lead to blindness.
Just under half of the population of Borno State farm in riverine areas - mainly planting maize, sorghum, millet, cow peas, tubers and groundnuts.
Prevention and treatment
The best way to prevent and treat river blindness is to take an annual dose of ivermectin, known as `Mectezan` which kills the fly larvae, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). If taken consistently for 15 years, the patient can gain life-time immunity, said HKI parasitologist and programme m