Up to 27 million Nigerians live with river blindness

TAG4.1.jpgIt is not everyday individuals and groups of people come together to advance the cause of fighting diseases in Nigeria, especially those that affect millions of people. In the case of Nigeria, several health challenges confront the vast majority of its people, a serious issue that demands serious and swift attention.

River blindness also known as Onchocerciasis has become the most endemic disease in Nigeria. According to the Carter Center, it accounts for as much as 40 per cent of the global disease burden. The Center estimates that up to 27 million Nigerians live with the disease in different parts of the 32 state and need treatment for disease. In 2012, the Center provided health education and Mectizan treatments to more than 6 million people in more than 8,100 villages. This initiative has however received quite an appreciable number of supports in the last couple of years from organisations and NGOs based in Nigeria through partnership with the Center in the fight against Onchocerciasis.

One of the biggest supporters in the fight and elimination of Onchocerciasis in Nigeria is Sir Emeka Offor, the founder and the Executive Vice Chairman of Chrome Group. On March 26, 2014, an esteemed team of epidemiologists, entomologists and public health advocates from The Carter Center (TCC) in Atlanta, Georgia U.S.A. paid a courtesy visit to him at the Group’s headquarters located on 22 Lobito Crescent, FCT. Abuja. See photos from the visit here.

Among the guests was TCC Country Representative/Nigeria Dr. Emmanuel S. Miri, OFR, Senior Associate Director of Development for TCC Health Programs Sarah Bartlett, Director Southeast Integrated Programs TCC Nigeria Dr. Emmanuel Emukah, Senior Program Associate for TCC Lindsay Rakers, and Assistant Director Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) TCC Atlanta Dr. Darin Evans. Representing Chrome Group included the Chief Energy Consultant Engr. Onochie Anyaoku, Director Project Engr. Tochukwu Odukwe, followed by the Group Administrative Manager Chief Inno Anoliefo while the General Coordinator Honourable Tony Obi ably represented the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF).

Speaking to the visitors in his office, Sir Emeka thanked all for their visit while stating his happiness in partnering with the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in all his endeavours towards the elimination of not just River Blindness in Nigeria.

“I want to continue my support to President Carter to see that River Blindness is eliminated from our region. And now, I know it is not just River Blindness but also elephantiasis and schistosomiasis.” Sir Emeka said;

He further stated that he was actively developing an office facility at the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) headquarter in Oraifite, Anambra State. The new office according to Sir Emeka will be dedicated to The Carter Center. In addition, he noted that his foundation is in the process of acquiring four Hilux utility vehicles to help curb TCC logistic challenges in the South-eastern part of Nigeria.

While thanking Sir Emeka for his continued support of the program, TCC Country Representative/Nigeria Dr. Miri confirmed that a thorough mapping of the seven endemic states in Nigeria (Abia, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, and Imo) had been completed and that the Carter Center is poised to scale up its treatment target to reach about 35 million people. Dr. Miri said, “we still have challenges in the area of funding even though other agencies like WHO and USAID have made donations…however the funds are not accessible due to recent restrictions on foundations to donate to Nigeria because of Nigeria’s new anti-gay law.” Dr Miri therefore asked for Sir Emeka Offor’s continued financial support.

Speaking earlier during the visit, Sarah Bartlett shared President Carter’s appreciation for Sir Emeka Offor’s partnership in his efforts to bring about a total elimination of River Blindness in Nigeria. She noted how Sir Emeka offor’s donations last year had been very useful to the program such that it has established him as the highest African donor to the program in Nigeria. She also stressed that Sir Emeka Offor’s continued support was necessary because depending on other governmental donor organs may not be reliable. She affirmed that there were currently a lot of restrictions on how much or how long USAID could support the program especially in Nigeria.

Dr. Evans joined in by saying that Onchocerciasis elimination efforts had been very successful in the Americas through the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA) and was equally successful in Uganda and Sudan. He said, “we would like to try to do this in Nigeria…perhaps we can get some support to implement the elimination studies we have done elsewhere.”

The visit ended on a good note with Sir Emeka Offor extending an invitation to the team from The Carter Center to return to Nigeria and specifically to the Southeast to initiate the “scaled up” elimination program.

With the above commitments and initiative, there is no doubt that the elimination of Onchocerciasis will be achieved. River blindness poses a great risk for us as a people. Stemming it vigorously now will not only prevent its further spread but also remove Nigeria from its endemic status.