Photograph: Professor Stephen Hawking addressing the audiences at today’s event. (Image Courtesy of SightSavers.)
Churchill College, Cambridge, England. 12 December 2017 Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), such as Trachoma, Dengue, Lymphatic filariasis and Leishmaniasis, are called “neglected,” because they typically only afflict the world’s poor people. Until recently these diseases have not received as much attention as other diseases in terms of treatment and attempts at eradication. But there are encouraging signs that this is changing and these diseases are no longer being ignored. Indeed, Sightsavers, the charity concerned with protecting sight and fighting for disability rights today marked the one billionth treatment of NTD medicine that was recently administered to Dorcas, a seven-year-old girl in Nigeria to protect her from River Blindness (Onchocerciasis).
The keynote speaker at the Sightsavers meeting was the world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking. He described to audiences in Cambridge and by link to Abuja in Nigeria, the pioneering work of his father, Dr Frank Hawking
“Today we are here to celebrate delivering one billion treatments for NTDs – a monumental milestone few health programmes have achieved, both in terms of scale and level of success.
“Collaboration between partners across the world over the past five years has accelerated us closer to the elimination of NTDs than ever before, making it clear that this is one of the most successful health initiatives of recent times.”
Frank Hawking was one of the first scientists to conduct research into and develop treatment for lymphatic filariasis (known as Elephantiasis). Hawking Senior’s work in the 1950s led to the development of diethylcarbamazine, a chemotherapy which is still widely used today.
“My father’s work into NTDs many years ago highlighted that this is an important area where we must be placing focus.
“The fact that these diseases are entirely preventable and treatable means that, in this day and age with the advances in health and science we know only too well, we should really be in a position to be saying goodbye to these horrible diseases of poverty once and for all.”
Former US president Jimmy Carter, founder of the Carter Center which works to control and eradicate NTDs, congratulated Sightsavers, saying it had been a “valuable partner with the Carter Center in the fight against trachoma and river blindness in Africa.
“No single organisation can hope to eliminate neglected tropical diseases on its own. The effort requires cooperation among a diverse team of players, taking advantage of the strengths each member of the team brings with it.”
This was a recurring theme during the meeting, that organisations can only achieve success like one billion treatments when there is partnership with the local communities, the local medical professionals and the government health systems in countries like Nigeria and Ghana. Dr Caroline Harper, Sightsavers’ CEO said: “Delivering one billion NTD treatments would not have been possible without the support of our many partners around the world. Each and every one of them has helped us make an enormous impact on the people that our programmes reach.
“We must redouble our efforts and at all costs avoid any sense of complacency at this crucial time. Eliminating these diseases once and for all is our goal, but there is still a way to go before we are able to do this.”
Onchocerciasis (River Blindness)
David Apple recorded in his biography of Sir Harold Ridley how the English surgeon had examined River Blindness patients in Ghana while he was stationed there in the 1940s.
Sir Harold Ridley was stationed in the Gold Coast, now Ghana, for part of his war service in World War II. In 1941 while acting as a part-time sanitation officer at the capital city of Accra, he met Brigadier G. M. Findlay, AMS, who stimulated Ridley’s interest to study River Blindness, an endemic disease in parts of the country. To find onchocerciasis patients, Ridley left the coastal city and travelled overland with Captain John Holden to north west Ghana. He worked in Funsi in the Wa East District of the Upper West Region for two weeks, examining patients with a slit-lamp, which ran off a 12-volt battery. Most (90%) had onchocerciasis; ten percent of these were blind. Conditions were primitive and Ridley recorded his observations of the Fundus by water-colour painting and photography. His painting of the fundus (sometimes termed the “Ridley fundus” of onchocerciasis) was completed in Accra upon his return from Funsi. The attention he called to this disease constitutes one of Mr. Ridley’s major contributions to ophthalmology. His monograph “Ocular Onchocerciasis,” published in 1945 in a supplement of the British Journal of Ophthalmology is today recognised as a landmark.
Prof. Auffarth and everyone at the David J Apple lab congratulate the achievement of the one billion treatments.
Well done Sightsavers!
Sir Harold Ridley on this website
Harold Ridley (ophthalmologist) entry in Wikipedia.com