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Combating River Blindness in Nigeria: The Carter Centre and Sir Emeka Offor Foundation Partnership

20 March 2014

By Raheem Oluwafunminiyi

On March 3rd 2014, The Jimmy Carter Center in Atlanta Georgia was noticeably alive as the 18th River Blindness [Elimination] Program Review kicked off in full swing. The conference, which holds annually, was graced by world leading epidemiologists and entomologists, public health advocates and country Ministry of Health coordinators, particularly from countries with endemic Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) and those with partner relationship with The Carter Foundation. In attendance also were prominent donors or representatives associated with the Carter Center in their homogenous and broad pursuit of peace, disease eradication and human capacity training. 

The conference was opened by Dr. Frank Richards Jr. Director, Carter Center River Blindness (RB), Lymphatic Filariasis (LF), Schistosomiasis (SCH), ML Programs, who began by looking at River Blindness eradication efforts, challenges and recorded successes since the 2013 Review session. In his declaration, he reminded the panel of the purpose of the review, which according to him include an examination of The Carter Center assisted River Blindness (RB), Lymphatic Filariasis (LF), Schistosomiasis (SCH) programs together with represented partners from country Ministry of Health, assess targets reached during the previous year, review problems encountered in fulfilling set objectives and set new goals or objectives for the year 2014. He further urged the panel to evaluate and appreciate innovative efforts or concepts of integration otherwise called Integrated Vector Management (IVM).

The World Health Organization in 2011 issued a statement in support of Integrated Vector Management (IVM) citing improved cost effectiveness in vector control operations and strengthening the capacity of programs as well, as it pertains to Lymphatic Filariasis (LF)/Malaria, Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) and River Blindness elimination in endemic regions of Africa and particularly, Nigeria. The Integrated Vector Management (IVM) had encouraged an estimated treatment target of about 20 million in 2013, a remarkable jump from the number of previous years. Although a little more than 15 million treatment target was met, it however was considered a success.

River Blindness or Onchocerciasis is a disease that affects the eye and skin brought by a nematode called Onchocerca Volvulus. It is one of the neglected tropical diseases Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) endemic in South Eastern Nigeria. It is parasitic in nature and caused by an infection resulting from several bites from a black fly often found in areas with fast flowing streams. According to the WHO, 30 countries in Africa are considered endemic with an estimated population of 85 million. Almost half of those numbers live in Nigeria.

Common symptoms include itching of skin, rashes or papules often tightening of skin tissue akin to a lizard skin. The accompanying inflammatory response leads to glaucoma type effect that may lead to irreversible blindness if not treated on time. Treatment is effected by the administration of a drug called Ivermectin (Mectizan), a Merck Company product, once or twice a year for about 15 years. An antibiotic doxycycline has also been used to hasten treatment when properly indicated.

Embracing the shift from control to elimination, The Carter Center has adopted a "scale up" modality in the treatment of River Blindness. To enable the Centre and its partners achieve this goal, twice-a-year and sometimes four-times-a-year treatment regimens have been encouraged, particularly in regions where transmission persists. Such an aggressive approach requires coordinated and collaborative efforts from each country's Ministry of Health, The Carter Center and most certainly supportive funding from donor organizations.

It is here that Sir Emeka Offor, the Executive Vice Chairman of a multi-billion dollar oil and gas conglomerate, has risen to augment the on-going global efforts towards the elimination and eradication of River Blindness from Nigeria. Through his corporate responsibility arm, The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, he donated over US$250,000 personally to the Carter Center during the year 2013. At this year's review at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Sir Emeka Offor through his representative Dr. Edwin Ndukwe, renewed his commitment to the fight against River Blindness and further pledged provision of supportive logistics to advance efforts made by The Carter Center. Till date, Sir Emeka Offor remains the largest independent African donor in the world towards the elimination and eradication of River Blindness in Nigeria, a statement verified from the Center's spokesperson.

While speaking at the closing of the review session, Dr. Ndukwe commended the team of doctors, epidemiologists and entomologists for their persistence in the River Blindness elimination project. In his words, he said "I commend the Carter Center for bringing together these colourful and quite frankly, brilliant ensemble of scientific icons that are committed to wiping out the scourge of River Blindness from our region". He further referred to them as "Iconoclasts", stating that through their unique disciplines, they are "breaking new grounds, stretching scientific borders and redefining scientific research standards." Dr. Ndukwe reaffirmed Sir Emeka Offor's passion for the on-going work against River Blindness and believes the disease will sooner than expected be wiped out of many societies living with it.

With this monumental exploit through the River Blindness [Elimination] Program Review, it is hoped The Jimmy Carter Center in partnership with Sir Emeka Offor will break further barriers in the fight against not only River Blindness but other health challenges which threatens the longevity and healthy existence of mankind.  

Raheem Oluwafunminiyi wrote via raheemfunminiyi@rediffmail.com

 

  EsinIslam.Com

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