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CTA. 2003. River blindness. Rural Radio Resource Pack 03/02. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57318
Dr Elizabeth Elhassan of the NGO Sight Savers International explains what her organisation is doing to alleviate the problem of river blindness among farming communities in Nigeria and other parts of west and central Africa
Cue: In any country much of the most fertile land is often found along the banks of rivers. However, for the people of West and Central Africa, rivers bring not just water and fertile soil but also danger. The danger comes in the form of a tiny worm, a parasite that is transmitted in the bite of a river-dwelling fly - the black fly. For those who are bitten the consequences are extremely serious - a terrible itching that spreads around the body, leading eventually to blindness. Currently around 18 million people in Africa are thought to be suffering from this disease, known as River Blindness, with over 100 million more at risk. The impact on agricultural productivity and food security is huge; as well as individual farmers being unable to work, whole communities are even forced to move away from the most fertile land to escape the flies. In addition many children stay at home to care for blind relatives, and are unable to attend school. There is a drug available to treat the disease, and the manufacturers of the drug have even made it free of charge, but how to distribute it to millions of people in such a large area? That task is being addressed by a charity, Sight Savers International. Tunde Fatunde spoke to Dr Elizabeth Elhassan about the disease and how her organisation is tackling it. IN: ?When the fly bites an individual ?? OUT: ??farm without the risk of blindness.? DUR?N 5?07? BACK ANNOUNCEMENT: Elizabeth Elhassan describing attempts to control River Blindness in West and Central Africa. Transcript Elhassan When the fly bites an individual it deposits small worms in the individual and the worms reproduce and multiply into thousands and millions and they begin to move around the body. It?s the movement around the body that causes the itching and then when they get into the eye they damage the optic nerve and that causes blindness. But this movement around the body causes itching and so people begin to itch and as they itch they respond by scratching. It gets bad to an extent that some people will scratch with sticks, some with bottle covers, some with knives and some with brooms. Fatunde What is the effect of this on their farming activities? Elhassan It reduces productivity because people get carried away from what they normally would do. Rather than spend time on their farms whether its planting, its weeding or harvesting, people spend all the time itching and scratching. Fatunde At what point can one say that Sight Savers International intervene in helping the farmers and how? Elhassan Well Sight Savers International has intervened in two aspects in helping the farmers. We help to distribute the drug Mectizan which is donated free by Merck Sharp and Dohme to the communities that have the disease. Fatunde What has been the impact of the taking of these drugs by the farmers on their level of productivity on their farms? Elhassan It has reduced the burden of the disease on the farmers from itching and scratching and also prevented those that are going blind from getting blind. And therefore farmers now have more time to spend on their farms and also farmers are able to do their work better and reap the fruits of their labour. Fatunde What are the long term plans to help these farmers improve upon their level of productivity because it looks as if this River Blindness disease is a recurrent phenomenon? Elhassan How we have addressed that is actually through our farmers that are irreversibly blind. In the case of farmers that are irreversibly blind, that need additional help, what we?ve done is set up a community based rehabilitation programme in which we have collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Department of Social Welfare and Department of Health. There we have a clear inter-sectoral collaboration. Fatunde What kind of occupation can they engage in? Elhassan It depends on the person?s choice but a lot of them because they are traditionally farmers, opt for farming. And so we get the ?agric? extension officers, train them on how to train a blind person on mobility skills before they can now introduce training of the blind in agriculture. Fatunde Which means your level of intervention is two: first those who have not attained level of blindness and those who are irreversibly blind. Now what happens to the children of these two categories? Do they stay in the farm or do they move to the towns? Elhassan In the first group of people that are not yet blind the people remain in the communities with their children because their children are also treated. But those that are blind, if you don?t start with them early then they tend to move with their children into urban areas to beg. But the moment you rehabilitate them within their communities the children remain in the communities with them. Fatunde So are we having a generation of younger people who, because of the treatment they get stay in the farm and in the process help their parents, or get discouraged? What?s your own observation on the ground? Elhassan We are having a generation of people that are remaining in the communities because the drugs are available to them and it?s free. And you have also these children within the communities, they are the ones we also use to distribute the drugs, they are volunteers and they are also members of the group that are also volunteering to be trained as rehabilitation assistants. Fatunde Have you noticed the difference in the method of farming and level of productivity of this younger generation compared to their parents? Elhassan We?ve noticed an improvement and a difference because now the children from this generation know that they can continue to farm without the risk of blindness. End of track.