Dark Forest, Black Fly

Exploring one country’s determined effort to eliminate a fearsome parasite, DARK FOREST, BLACK FLY offers a rare look at a global health success story that is educational, entertaining, and hopeful.

Mia Farrow

Narrated by Mia Farrow

For centuries, river blindness (onchocerciasis) has tormented millions of people in Africa, the Middle East, and South America. Caused by microscopic worms that migrate under the skin, leading to intense itching and eventual loss of sight, the disease is transmitted by small black flies that breed in fast-flowing rivers and streams.

Nearly 25 years ago researchers discovered a drug, ivermectin, that kills the worms, relieving the itching and preventing blindness; donations of the drug by the manufacturer, Merck and Company, have made it possible to control river blindness and eliminate it in large areas of Latin America and Africa, but the threat of its return still exists.

The battle by one nation to eliminate river blindness provides fascinating insight into the nature of the disease and the history of campaigns against it. Uganda’s unique decision to aim for eliminating the disease entirely, using intensive ivermectin treatment and its experienced vector control teams to attack the black flies where they breed, could lead other African countries to follow its example.

But in Uganda’s war-ravaged north, where basic health services were virtually non-existent for decades, river blindness is at its worst; even children are losing their sight, and Uganda faces its biggest challenge yet in beating the disease.

DARK FOREST, BLACK FLY describes how dedicated scientists and health workers have joined together to achieve remarkable success against river blindness on two continents. Following these passionate characters who have made eliminating the disease their life’s work, the story shows how Uganda is making solid progress through mass treatment with ivermectin and by clearing out black flies – one “hot spot” at a time.

Like other episodes in the Global Health Frontiers series, this program offers a rare look at a global health success story that is educational, entertaining, and inspiring.