Written by Dr. Edwin Ndukwe
A growing partnership design, one which brings together Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs’) and private sector venture capitalists is making giant strides in the delivery of much needed global health, particularly in Africa. One of such organs is a budding relationship between The Carter Center (TCC), a U.S. based NGO and Sir Emeka Offor, conjoined to fight off the scourge of River Blindness (RB) from Sir Offor’s region in southeastern Nigeria.
"Many people from our region both middle aged and older have lost their ability to see over the years. We often associate their predicament with the curse of old age,” Sir Emeka Offor stated.
Any form of impairment to vision, whether brought on by Onchocerciasis or Trachoma steals from its victims. It does not only steal the natural ability to see but it also steals and robs the victims of their future, dreams and aspirations. Families of Victims are not spared. Young children of school age unknowing of what calamity has befallen their parents are the worst to suffer from the indirect scourge of blindness.
"To think that a small blackfly can inflict such darkness to our communities from a simple bite, is a hard reality to swallow. Now, we learn it is River Blindness,” Sir Offor said.
RB is an eye and skin disease caused by a worm (microfilariae) known scientifically as Onchocerca volvulus, according to World Health Organization (WHO). Transmission to humans is through the bite of a blackfly (simulium species), which breed in fast-flowing streams and rivers, increasing the risk of blindness to people living nearby. It is a major cause of blindness in rural communities where the blackfly vector is active.
W.H.O estimates that over 102 million people are at risk for RB in 19 African countries. Over 30 million people are at risk for the disease in Nigeria. In the southeast of the country, and particularly in the seven hyper-endemic states of Abia, Anambra, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo, with more than 6 million people, RB poses a major health risk to over 15,000 villages. The economic burden to families is enormous, and the direct effect to the future of dependents of afflicted parents can only be imagined.
Since 1993, The Carter Center (TCC) has waged a fight against RB in the southeastern region, having been emboldened by their success in treating Lymphatic Filariasis in some parts of Northern Nigeria. Utilizing community volunteers otherwise called Community Directed Distributors (CDDs) and employing effective mass drug distribution method, TCC successfully dispensed about 207,158,986 Mectizan (Ivermectin) tablets to 75,699,143 persons between 1993 and 2013. In 2014 alone, the number of Mectizan tablets versus persons was 13,906,614 and 5,548,126 respectively, bringing a cumulative total of 221,065,600 Mectizan tablets administered to 80,747,269 villagers in and around the southeastern states, according to information provided by Dr. Emmanuel Emukah, Director Southeast Integrated Programs of TCC.
Sir Emeka Offor’s contributions in this partnership and the supportive leadership of the Federal government of Nigeria have appreciably helped to shape the success recorded above. His initial donation of $250,000 in 2013 and his renewed interest to enter into an extended financial commitment with TCC raises the hope for an achievable milestone in the elimination of RB from the region. However, TCC admits there are still key challenges to surmount in order to register major success like the one recorded against RB in the Americas (Colombia, Ecuador) and some parts of Africa (Sudan and Uganda). These challenges according to TCC include the late arrival of Mectizan, inaccuracy of CDTI Population Denominator, drug inventory and data management, compensation of over 30,000 CDDs and proper management of huge number of personnel.
On why he (Sir Emeka Offor) has chosen the path of giving and on what drives his passion, Sir Offor said, “I want to make my mark. Actually, I want to make two marks. One, as an excellent businessman who has built a group of companies that will stand the test of time. Two, to be as good at giving as I am at turning a profit. I hope to set an example for the next generation of successful Nigerian businessmen who will know they can make money while also making a difference.”