Combating River Blindness in Sierra Leone
It was on an Helen Keller Intl Board trip to Sierra Leone in February 2014 that our group visited a small rural village en route to another location. We stopped at a health clinic to meet with members of the staff, some patients, and residents of the surrounding area served by the clinic. After introducing ourselves we mostly listened to some of the stories about the health problems afflicting the village — diseases generally associated with poverty in the West Africa region.
At some point the discussion turned to river blindness, sadly an all too common disease spread by flies that flourish near the region’s rivers. For many years, Helen Keller has been instrumental in fighting this disease by distributing preventative medicine and treatment. When asked to say a few words, the village chief attending our meeting spoke of the disease’s devastation but also noted the sharp decline in its incidence in recent years. He credited this progress to the drug distribution program from Helen Keller and then said that he believes river blindness in his village can be eliminated entirely within five years. He went on to thank Helen Keller for its work in his community.
Hearing of this progress, and the potential to completely wipe out river blindness in this one village was gratifying and inspirational, a validation of what can be accomplished through collaboration between donors, our Helen Keller staff on the ground, and leaders in the communities we serve.