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Carter Center Slideshow | Neighbors Help Neighbors Combat River Blindness

At the heart of the River Blindness Elimination Program in Nigeria are thousands of community volunteers who receive training and equipment to serve as community-directed distributors. They deliver accurate health information to their neighbors, administer the medications that combat the disease, and keep thorough records for Ministry of Health and Carter Center researchers to track progress. Get to know some of these volunteers here. 

  • For 20 years, Yusuf Maikeffi has faithfully made the rounds, visiting every household in his village in Nigeria's Nasarawa state, taking measurements and handing out doses of medicine to fight river blindness and control other tropical diseases. His own neighbors selected him to be their community-directed distributor, trained and equipped by The Carter Center and the Ministry of Health. He has a regular job, but when it's the season to hand out the medicine, he does the health work from the time he gets home until the sun goes down, every day until all the roughly 200 people under his care have been treated. "I never get tired of it," he said. "This is my community." (All photos: The Carter Center/R. McDowall)

  • Farmer and schoolteacher Gabriel Ani volunteered to be a Carter Center-trained community-directed distributor in 2009. Now the father of four provides health education and medication for river blindness to more than 1,000 people in 129 households in his village in southeastern Nigeria. In 2016, his coordinator with the Enugu State Ministry of Health named Ani the best distributor in the entire state. "My son is proud of me," Ani said. "He asked me, 'Dad, why do you want to help people all the time?' I told him that it's in my blood, that I love it. And he told me that when he grows up he's going to be like me."

  • Among those Gabriel Ani has trained is a tall 20-year-old woman named Blessing Confidence Ude, who now serves as his apprentice in Ndiulo Enugu-Nato, the village where they both live in southeastern Nigeria. Together they measure people for proper dosage, administer medications, and keep careful records for the state Ministry of Health. She admires her mentor’s worth ethic and commitment to his neighbors’ health. "He inspires me," Ude said. "Watching the way he works made me want to do that work too, for the good of our community."

  • Joseph Kobodo is one of the newest community-directed distributors working with The Carter Center in Nigeria. In addition to spreading health messages and distributing medicine, he is responsible for monitoring a trap that catches flies for medical researchers to examine. Having taken on the volunteer role just a few months ago, he is still learning the ropes in the fight against river blindness. But what he lacks in experience Kobodo makes up for in enthusiasm: “I’m committed to a 100 percent win,” he says.

  • Community-directed distributors (left to right) Charity Nwachukwu, Ogochukwu Madubuobi, and Unegbe Nkechi discuss river blindness in the town of Oraifite with Attamah-Isiani Egeonu, the Carter Center’s assistant program director for southern Nigeria’s Anambra state. Egeonu says women are highly effective as distributors because they are particularly attuned to family health-care issues and are able to connect and communicate with other women, who are the primary caregivers in most households.

  • When Raymond Anidife arrives at a gathering in Awene, his village in southeast Nigeria, the people applaud, and he smiles and waves. “I have been distributing Mectizan® since 1995,” he says, referring to the medicine, donated by Merck & Co., Inc., that wards off river blindness. “It has given me joy to do that.” At 68, Anidife is one of the oldest community-directed distributors in Nigeria. He does the work out of a sense of gratitude. “People who don’t know us cared enough about us to give us medicine for free,” he says. “How could I not do this for my own people?”