16 May 1997

River blindness challenge

"ITS VERY moving to see children guiding their elders," said Jonathan Eckley launching the "50p challenge to turn the tide on river blindness".

Jonathan recently visited Africa to see the work of Sight Savers International which sets up immunisation programmes to protect villagers from the scourge of river blindness, a condition caused by a parasite, a worm passed to people by the black simulium fly over many years of being bitten.

In some of the villages Jonathan visited 50% of the people had been blinded in this way and were led about by their small children. The parasite had caused other communities to move away from fertile land beside rivers and try to make a living in arid areas, he said.

The charity is protecting villagers from blindness with an immunisation programme which costs 50p a person a year, and training afflicted people in mobility and work skills so that they can get around unaided and earn a living for themselves and their families. People are most likely to become affected in their 30s and 40s: 18m people are affected and 80m at risk.

Young farmers have taken on the challenge of supporting the Sight Savers charity and have produced a fund rasing pack to help clubs play their part.