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Carter Center Celebrates Assisting 500 Million Doses against Diseases in 14 Countries

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Emily Staub, Emily.Staub@cartercenter.org

GIDAN GIMBA, NIGERIA — The health programs of The Carter Center have surpassed a major milestone: The organization on Nov. 4 celebrated assisting with the distribution of 500 million doses of donated medication to combat five neglected tropical diseases in 14 countries in Africa and Latin America.

Nigeria’s federal health officials joined local dignitaries and officers of The Carter Center and other organizations in Gidan Gimba, Karu LGA, Nasarawa State, Nigeria, to celebrate the achievement. The observance was held in Nigeria because 42 percent of the Carter Center-assisted treatments have been administered through numerous Center health programs there. The next largest number of NTD drugs has been distributed in Ethiopia, to combat trachoma, river blindness, and lymphatic filariasis.

"The Carter Center health programs have pioneered eradication, elimination, and control of neglected tropical diseases for more than a quarter-century," said Ambassador (ret.) Mary Ann Peters, the Carter Center’s chief executive officer. “We have seen, time and again, that people at the grass-roots level can improve their own lives dramatically when they have access to the appropriate tools and knowledge. Among the most important of these tools are safe and effective donated medicines, together with health education and community ownership of the distribution process.”

Founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, The Carter Center partners with ministries of health and community volunteers to distribute medication and health education aimed at eliminating river blindness, blinding trachoma, and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), and controlling schistosomiasis and intestinal worms.

Nigeria’s Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Mrs. Binda Adamu Bello, welcomed Peters, along with Dr. Dean Sienko, the Center’s vice president of health programs; Dr. Frank Richards, director of the Center’s river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, and schistosomiasis programs; Craig Withers, senior director of international support; and Dr. Emmanuel Miri, Nigeria country representative for The Carter Center. Also on hand for the celebration were former Nigeria Head of State General Yakubu Gowon; Sir Emeka Offor, Founder of the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation and Carter Center’s Special Emissary for River Blindness; former ambassador Howard Jeter; Ben Nwobi, resident program advisor for RTI International and the USAID’s ENVISION project in Nigeria; Michael T. Harvey, USAID mission director; Dr. Rex Mpazanje, acting World Health Organization country representative; and Chris Ogoshi, NGDO Coalition Chairman.

“The Federal Ministry of Health is pleased to be part of this celebration of our long and successful partnership with The Carter Center,” Bello said. “The whole of Nigeria’s productivity is affected when some suffer. The people of Nigeria deserve the best health possible and, together with the villages and our other faithful partners, we are achieving it.”

To commemorate the half-billion treatments with which The Carter Center has assisted, Bello administered a dose of ivermectin, used to treat river blindness (onchocerciasis); Peters administered a dose of praziquantel, which treats schistosomiasis; and community drug distributor Mr. Yusuf Maikeffi gave a dose of albendazole, which controls intestinal worms (soil-transmitted helminths). All three medications can be administered together safely and effectively.

Jude Musa, a 13-year-old boy who loves football and drumming, swallowed all three treatments with a sip of water and a smile. Jude said he previously had blood in his urine, a symptom of schistosomiasis, but it returned to normal after he started receiving praziquantel every year from Maikeffi.  

"If you take this medicine, it will help you," Jude, one of six children of a retired police officer, told his neighbors. He said some of his friends had been infected with worms, but got better with Maikeffi's care.  

In his role as Gidan Gimba's trained community drug distributor (CDD), Maikeffi serves about 200 people. Some have reported improved vision, and he’s observed a reduction in vision issues in his village since he began distributing treatment. He attributes the improvement to a reduction in river blindness.  

"I enjoy being a CDD because it is important to me to help protect my community," said Maikeffi, the father of six children, ranging in age from 5 to 20.  Maikeffi is one of 80,000 community-based volunteers and health workers dedicated to improving health in the Carter Center-assisted areas of Nigeria. 

Ivermectin is donated under the brand name Mectizan® by pharmaceutical company Merck (MSD). The 500 million treatments also include programs that address trachoma (azithromycin, donated by Pfizer) and lymphatic filariasis (a combination treatment of Mectizan and albendazole).

About half of the 500 million doses being celebrated have gone toward combatting the effects and spread of river blindness. Together with the ministries of health, the Center already has helped to eliminate the parasitic disease from Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Guatemala, as well as key locations in Sudan and Uganda. The Carter Center’s river blindness program in Nigeria operates a state-of-the-art laboratory at its headquarters in Jos to support national onchocerciasis elimination assessments. The Center also supports the work of the Nigerian National Onchocerciasis Elimination Committee, which advises the federal minister of health.

Blinding trachoma and lymphatic filariasis were recently eliminated from this part of Nigeria by Carter Center-assisted programs, further evidence of the effectiveness of the efforts being celebrated.

Additionally, Nigeria, once the most Guinea worm-endemic country in the world, eliminated that disease and achieved WHO certification in 2013. The Center and partners are nearing completion of the goal to globally eradicate Guinea worm disease; this is being accomplished by behavioral change, without medication or vaccine.

A photo slideshow about the Carter Center’s assistance with drug distribution for neglected tropical diseases can be seen here.

About the Diseases

Lymphatic filariasis is caused by thin worms transmitted to humans by the bites of mosquitoes in tropical and subtropical regions. These worms live in, and cause blockage of, the lymphatic system that normally returns fluids in human extremities to the circulatory system. This blockage results in fluid collection in the tissues (most commonly the legs and genitalia), severe swelling, and periodic fevers from bacterial infections of the collected fluids. A long-standing infection with lymphatic filariasis results in an irreversible condition called elephantiasis, in which there is a marked enlargement and hardening of the skin so that it resembles that of an elephant. Approximately 120 million people are infected by lymphatic filariasis, and 1.1 billion are at risk of infection. The Carter Center LF Elimination Program currently operates in Ethiopia and Nigeria.

In addition, The Carter Center's Hispaniola Initiative works with the ministries of health in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to accelerate the elimination of malaria and lymphatic filariasis from the countries' shared island, Hispaniola.

Onchocerciasis (river blindness) is a parasitic disease that afflicts the rural poor. It is caused by a worm that is spread from person to person by the bites of Simulium black flies that breed in rapid-flowing rivers and streams. The disease can cause intense itching, eye damage, and irreversible blindness, reducing an individual's ability to work and learn. Worldwide, an estimated 120 million people are at risk of being infected and 270,000 have been blinded by the disease, mostly in Africa. In addition to Africa and Latin America, onchocerciasis also affects Yemen.

As many as 50 million Nigerians are at risk of contracting river blindness. The Carter Center also works with the governments of Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Brazil, and Venezuela to eliminate transmission of the disease.

Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharziasis or "snail fever," is a waterborne parasitic infection that damages internal organs. The most common symptoms are blood in urine and/or feces and an enlarged liver, diarrhea, abdominal pain, weakness, and anemia. In terms of socioeconomic and public health impact, schistosomiasis is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease in tropical countries. Nigeria is the most endemic country for schistosomiasis, with approximately 20 million people — mostly children — needing treatment. The Carter Center’s Schistosomiasis Control Program operates in seven states in Nigeria.

Trachoma is a bacterial eye infection found in poor, isolated communities lacking basic hygiene, clean water, and adequate sanitation. It is easily spread from person to person through eye-seeking flies, and by hands and clothes. Repeated infection leads to scarring and inward turning of the eyelid — a very painful condition called trichiasis — eventually causing blindness if left untreated. Trachoma can be found in over 50 countries, most in Africa and the Middle East, and a few countries in the Americas and Asia. Globally, 200 million people are at risk for trachoma, and over 3.2 million are at immediate risk for blindness from trichiasis. The Carter Center’s Trachoma Control Program operates in Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda. In 2008, the Center helped Ghana eliminate blinding trachoma.

Partnerships

Many generous foundations, corporations, governments, and individuals have made these accomplishments possible through the years, including major support from Abbott; Alwaleed Philanthropies; BASF Corporation; Chevron Corporation; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Carlos Slim Foundation; Clarke Mosquito Control; GSK; Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; Izumi Foundation; Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Johnson & Johnson; John J. Moores; A.G. Leventis Foundation; Lions Clubs International Foundation; Merck; Merck KGaA; OPEC Fund for International Development; Pfizer Inc; RTI International; Sightsavers; Sir Emeka Offor Foundation; and United States Agency for International Development. Key implementing partners include the ministries of health in endemic countries, World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), UNICEF, the Task Force for Global Health, UNICEF, and various university partners. In Nigeria the Center currently enjoys major support from RTI/ENVISION, USAID, and the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation. 

Editor's Notes

  • B-roll and photographs from the field are available by contacting Jennifer.Hallaman@cartercenter.org.
  • Get up-to-date resources including monthly case reporting, graphs, news articles, and human interest stories here.

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"Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope."
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in over 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.

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