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Carter Center Slideshow | Faces of River Blindness: Kisanchi Village

Meet some elders of Kisanchi village in central Nigeria. They are blind or have low vision due to river blindness, a parasitic infection that can cause intense itching, skin discoloration, rashes, and eye disease that often leads to permanent blindness.

The Carter Center and partners are working with Nigeria’s Ministry of Health to eliminate river blindness in nine states, including Plateau, where Kisanchi is located. Below, elders share their experiences with a disease that is disappearing from their village.

  • Kisanchi sits high on a rocky hill in Nigeria’s Plateau state. The village is beautifully situated with far vistas, large boulders, and roaming piglets. But the fertile land and big rocks also make an ideal habitat for the black flies that cause river blindness disease. The Carter Center first surveyed the area in the early 1990s while mapping the disease in the state and found it to be endemic. (Photo: The Carter Center)

  • Otiho Adaka is totally blind in her right eye and has low vision in her left. She relies on her grandchildren to bring her food and lead her around the family compound. Her legs are discolored in places, a common symptom of river blindness. She said she still dreams at night of going out to farm even though it has been many years since she has been able to do so. (Photo: The Carter Center/ B. Moran)

  • Akusuk Abuga (left) has been losing his vision gradually for 30 years. He is not blind, but has trouble recognizing people until he hears their voices. A retired pastor, he still counsels members of the community on their personal matters. Abuga said he has sought the advice of Carter Center staff about his eyes and encourages community members to take the river blindness medication when it is distributed each year. Above, he speaks with John Umaru of The Carter Center. (Photo: The Carter Center/ R. McDowall)

  • Phoebe Akusuk, wife of the pastor with low vision, helps her husband find things around the house. He called her an excellent cook and said her porridge is his favorite. She too is a community advocate for river blindness prevention: “I was having low vision until I started taking Mectizan,” she said. Mectizan® is the drug donated by Merck that halts river blindness when taken each year. (Photo: The Carter Center/ R. McDowall)

  • A neighbor helps Adanku Ayina (left) reach home. He has been completely blind for four years. “It bothers me a lot. I cannot even sleep,” he said. But he is “gladdened” with the knowledge that he is one of the last people of his village to suffer the consequences of river blindness. (Photo: The Carter Center/ R. McDowall)

  • Adanku said he enjoys being known as the storyteller of his large family. Here, with his home in the background, he and his wife of 65 years are flanked by four of their 15 grandchildren. (Photo: The Carter Center/ R. McDowall)

  • Luka Kudu (right) lives in a neighboring village and, like the others, said his vision started fading about 30 years ago. Today he is completely blind. When he began losing his sight, he said, his right eye itched, and he thought perhaps some sand was stuck in it. He asked his son to check, but he saw nothing. Another time, while farming sorghum, his son told Kudu that he was skipping some plants while fertilizing. Kudu couldn’t see them. (Photo: The Carter Center)

  • At the family compound, Kudu (right) sits with Zacchaeus Azako Imil, a volunteer who distributes Mectizan in the area. Imil has served his community for 22 years, going from home to home each year to ensure everyone takes the medicine that prevents river blindness. (Photo: The Carter Center/ R. McDowall)

  • At the primary school in Kisanchi, the students do not need to worry about losing their sight to river blindness like the elders of their community. After more than two decades of annual treatment, blood and skin tests show that in Kisanchi village — part of Kishika district in Bassa LGA — only a very small percentage of people tested in recent years have the blood and skin indicators of river blindness. In the coming years, these children will not know anyone who has been blinded by the disease. (Photo: The Carter Center/ R. McDowall)