The endemic problem of Onchocerciasis—river blindness and its ravaging health, economic, and social effects in Africa, particularly in Nigeria, which accounts for about 40% of the global burden of the disease, has prompted Sir Emeka Offor to take more and sustained action to stem off the widespread of the disease in his country.
Thus, a few years ago in Atlanta, Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Sir Emeka Offor, a renowned philanthropist, signed a pact to collaborate for the control and elimination of river blindness in some states in Nigeria. In a press release from The Cater Center emailed to me, Sarah Bartlett, Sr. Associate Director of Development, Health and Peace Programs of The Carter Center, said, “Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and businessman Sir Emeka Offor signed an agreement today for a partnership to eliminate river blindness (onchocerciasis) from seven states in Nigeria where The Carter Center works with the Federal Ministry of Health, including Sir Emeka’s native state, Anambra. The project is made possible by grant support of USD$10 million from the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF). It will help reach the goal of eliminating river blindness from the world’s most endemic country by 2020.”
The statement continued, “The new resources from the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation will extend the reach of the Carter Center’s work in South East and South South Nigeria and help accelerate river blindness elimination throughout Nigeria at a pivotal time,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose health programs have actively collaborated with the government of Nigeria to eliminate and control diseases in Africa’s most populous country since 1988.”
The press release also contained the unprecedented donation from Sir Emeka Offor for a cause he is committed to with unbridled passion. It said, “The $10 million multi-year commitment by Sir Emeka is the largest grant from an individual African donor in Carter Center history, and the new resources will fund two-thirds of the Carter Center’s expanded interventions against river blindness in Nigeria to help meet the five-year target to eliminate river blindness nationwide.”
In a private reception, Ambassador Geoffrey Teneilabe, former Consul General, commended Sir Emeka Offor for his philanthropic and humanitarian activities requesting that he should continue to sustain them as he extoled Offor’s unprecedented virtues. Teneilabe thanked Emeka Offor for making Nigeria proud, as well as his generosity toward humanity for working to eliminate river blindness in Nigeria. Teneilabe expressed his confidence in the success of Offor’s vision. He said, “I’m optimistic about the project’s prospects of eliminating river blindness in the endemic areas of Nigeria.” “I sincerely commend you, Sir Emeka Offor for your commitment in the fight against diseases in Nigeria and I urge you to continue the good work,” Teneilabe stated during the reception.
In any case, The Carter Center (TCC) estimated that about 27 million people living in 32 endemic states in Nigeria are in dire need of “curative or preventative treatment with Mectizan® (ivermectin) for RB.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), river blindness, which is endemic in Nigeria, is caused by Onchocerciasis, a parasitic infection resulting from the filarial Onchocera volvulus worm. The filarial worm Onchocerca volvulu is said to be transmitted through repeated bites of infected Simulium blackflies that breed easily in areas with fast-flowing rivers and streams.
Per WHO, the Onchocerciasis not only causes river blindness, it also causes a skin malady, a situation where pigments are lost and over the years the skin dilapidates creating the appearance of ‘leopard skin.’ However, the impact of the Onchocerciasis as leading cause of eye disease is devastating on the economy of the affected areas. WHO succinctly described the phenomenon this way: “The eye disease gives Onchocerciasis its common name – river blindness. Onchocercal blindness is the world’s fourth leading cause of preventable blindness after cataract, glaucoma and trachoma. Blindness is caused when microfilariae migrate to the eye and die, causing an inflammatory response. Over time the affected area becomes opaque, leading to impaired vision and eventually blindness.”
The devastating health and economic effects of river blindness in West Africa led to the establishment of Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP) in 1975, which was aimed at controlling the widespread in the affected areas. For a more effective way to control and eliminate river blindness, the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) was established in 1995 by the World Health Organization with over 19 countries participating in the program. Since its establishment, APOC has been using the community-directed treatment approach to not only reach remote areas, but also treat patients in the most deserving endemic communities with ivermectin (CDTI).
While treating over 20 million people in the participating countries in 2000, APOC has engaged in capacity building by combining the “rapid epidemiological mapping of onchocerciasis (REMO) and geographical information systems (GIS)” to illustrate the geographical distribution and high incidence of river blindness. With this strategy, APOC utilizes effective strategy to target endemic areas and possibly wipeout the disease with (CDTI).
In her email also, Sarah Bartlett thanked those who were able to attend to celebrate Emeka Offor’s philanthropy. She said, “Thank you to so many of you who were able to join us at The Carter Center for a special evening in honor of Sir Emeka Offor. Last night was a wonderful celebration of his philanthropy, including a partnership with The Carter Center to help eliminate river blindness in Nigeria. The Carter Center is thrilled to expand our partnership with the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation!”
Indeed, Emeka Offor has made significant contributions to serving and uplifting humanity in the past years in various realms. His actions show that he is committed to eliminating river blindness in Nigeria and Nigerians in the Diaspora comment him for his Godly work. We are hopeful that other Nigerians will follow his footsteps.