Nigeria: Donors allot $31m to eliminate river blindness

International donors recently gathered in Abuja and committed US$31 million to support the World Health Organisation (WHO)/Africa Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC)’s efforts to control and embark upon focal elimination of river blindness from Africa.

The event, according to a statement issued by Paul Ejime of the WHO, attracted the international health community – health ministers, donors, non-governmental development partners, UN agencies, health experts  who are united on how to rid Africa of the River blindness scourge.

River blindness, a vicious parasitic worm disease transmitted by the bite of black flies causes intense itching, skin disfiguration, vision loss, and blindness. The adverse impact of the disease on Africa, which bears the greatest burden of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) include reduced agricultural productivity, recycling of poverty and an impediment to development.

More than 120 million people worldwide are at risk of River blindness with about 90 percent or more than 102 million of the at-risk population in Africa. Nigeria accounts for an estimated 30 million of the population at risk scattered in 31 of the country’s 36 states and in the Federal Capital Territory.

According to the experts, the urgency in tackling river blindness, and other NTDs cannot be over-emphasized with less than five years to 2015, the date set by world leaders for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) including halving extreme poverty worldwide.

APOC partners are determined to significantly shrink the regional map of river blindness by 2015.

Among the new commitments was a first-ever individual donation of US$1 million announced by a Nigerian philanthropist and survivor of river blindness General Theophilus Danjuma.

General Danjuma, a special guest at the meeting and grand patron of local NGDO MITOSATH, which supports Nigerian government in the fight against river blindness and other NTDs, recounted his experience as a young military officer, who battled and survived river blindness.

“I have had a personal experience with this disease and live with relatives and friends who are victims,” he said.

In response to General Danjuma’s plea, Nigeria’s health Minister, Prof Oyebuchi Chukwu reiterated Nigeria’s commitment to step up support and contributions toward the elimination of the disease in line with the theme of the Abuja meeting: “Join forces to make River Blindness history.”

Source – Nigerian Tribune – by Muda Oyeniran