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The Carter Center Appoints River Blindness Program Director

CONTACT: Emily Staub

Atlanta....Frank O. Richards, Jr., M.D., has returned to The Carter Center after retiring from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2005. He returns as technical director for the River Blindness Program, Lymphatic Filariasis Elimination Program, and Schistosomiasis Control Program. Dr. Richards was seconded from CDC to the Center in 1996 with the launching of the River Blindness Program (onchocerciasis) and served as its technical director until 2002.

"Dr. Richards brings an extensive background in disease control and eradication," said Dr. John Hardman, Carter Center executive director. "His expertise and commitment to community drug distribution will be essential as the Center and our partners move closer to eliminating onchocerciasis from the Americas by the end of the decade."

Dr. Richards earned his bachelor of arts degree at Williams College and his medical degree from Cornell University. After completing a residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, he joined the CDC and was assigned to the Division of Parasitic Diseases, where he remained for his 22-year CDC career. Dr. Richards reached the rank of captain in the Commissioned Corps and holds appointments at both the Rollins School of Public Health and the Emory School of Medicine.

Dr. Richards' career has focused on issues of global health, most of them dedicated to disease control and eradication in the Americas and Africa. He worked on schistosomiasis control in Egypt, Guinea worm eradication in Cameroon, lymphatic filariasis in Haiti and Nigeria, and malaria control in Guatemala. Dr. Richards' particular expertise is in onchocerciasis and the delivery of Mectizan® tablets (donated by Merck & Co.) through mass drug administration programs. He participated in the launching and operations of two major regional river blindness programs: The Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (launched in 1992), which reaches six countries in the Americas, and the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (launched in 1996), reaching 18 countries in Africa. As a Carter Center technical director, Dr. Richards succeeds Dr. Donald Hopkins, associate executive director of the Center's health programs, who served as the interim director of the river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, and schistosomiasis programs from 2002 to 2005.

"The Carter Center has focused on river blindness, schistosomiasis, and lymphatic filariasis, because they are diseases we can immediately do something about," says Dr. Richards. "There are good strategies to control or eliminate these diseases, and we have safe and effective oral medicines that, when delivered with health education, can dramatically improve people's lives. Furthermore, villagers can control or eliminate these diseases themselves, and so make sustainable differences in their own communities."

Onchocerciasis is a major cause of preventable blindness. The parasite is transmitted by small black flies found near fast moving water, often near the best farmland. Approximately 123 million people in endemic areas worldwide are at risk of infection; more than 99 percent of those infected reside in Africa; Nigeria is the most highly endemic country in the world. The Carter Center assisted in the delivery of over 10 million Mectizanâ treatments against river blindness in 2004.

Schistosomiasis is a microscopic parasite found in standing water. The most common victims are children exposed to the parasite larvae while bathing or swimming in contaminated water, although all it takes is touching the water-doing laundry or fetching water-to be come infected. The parasite that causes schistosomiasis lives for years in veins near the bladder or intestines, where it lays thousands of spiny eggs that tear and scar tissues of the intestines, liver, bladder, and lungs. Infected children often have bloody urine. The World Health Organization considers schistosomiasis the second devastating parasitic disease in terms of public health impact and socioeconomic loss, second only to malaria. The Carter Center works in partnership with the Nigeria Ministry of Health to provide the medicine praziquantel in villages where blood in urine is common. Two hundred thousand treatments were provided in 2004.

Lymphatic filariasis is a parasitic disease transmitted by mosquitoes. According to the WHO, lymphatic filariasis is the fourth leading cause of permanent and long-term disability. In its severest form, lymphatic filariasis leads to elephantiasis, a crippling condition in which limbs or genitals are grotesquely swollen or enlarged. Lymphatic filariasis has a devastating effect on the quality of life of those affected, impacting them not only physically, but also emotionally and economically. The Carter Center and its partners in Nigeria hope to eliminate this debilitating disease from Nigeria by 2015 delivering Mectizan combined with albendazole in community treatment programs. More than 3 million such treatments were provided in 2004.

Nigeria is the most endemic country in the world for river blindness and schistosomiasis, and second most endemic for lymphatic filariasis. The Carter Center has been a leader in developing an integrated approach to controlling these three diseases in a large demonstration project in central Nigeria. The success of this project has been stunning and the Center's model of distributing drugs for several diseases through one community distribution system is setting the standard for integrated health systems in other developing countries.


The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide. A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, the Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 65 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers to increase crop production. Please visit to learn more about The Carter Center.

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