We are pleased to announce that Dr. Tony Ukety, former Coordinator for the Onchocerciasis Elimination NGDO Group was selected as the 2016 recipient of the Mectizan Award.
The Mectizan Award is given to individuals who have demonstrated an extraordinary level of commitment to fighting river blindness and/or lymphatic filariasis. Dr. Ukety was chosen based on his achievements during his career including:
- During his tenure as a clinical ophthalmologist in Nyankunde, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Dr. Ukety conducted ophthalmology outreach in rural areas and discovered individuals with eye lesions caused by onchocerciasis infection. When he learned that Mectizan had been donated by Merck & Co., Inc. he initiated a treatment program in DRC, which has been highly successful despite constraints such as civil conflict.
- His personal sacrifices for the sake of the program were heroic. In 1997, Dr. Ukety was captured and held overnight near the eye clinic he’d helped establish in Bunia. Later, the eye clinic he worked so hard to develop was destroyed in the conflict.
- Following the successful launch of the onchocerciasis control program in DRC, Dr. Ukety returned to school to complete an MSc in Community Eye Health at the International Center for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and an MPH at Johns Hopkins University. He left the onchocerciasis control program in capable hands and it is still successful today.
- Dr. Ukety served as the NGDO Coordinator for Onchocerciasis Control where he cultivated the partnerships so necessary to our work. He championed those partnerships to shift the focus from onchocerciasis control in Africa from to elimination.
Merck & Co., Inc, and the Mectizan Donation Program thank you for your hard work and sacrifice for onchocerciasis control in DRC, and other countries in Africa as well as your work in loiasis, lymphatic filariasis and other NTDs.
Dr. Ukety delivered the following acceptance speech:
In 2012 when MDP asked me to deliver the lecture on onchocerciasis in Hyderabad India, I was so amazed by the way I was chosen. Why? My career started with Mectizan Donation. I started my career in January 1987 and in October Mectizan was donated. I was asked to go to a rural area as a very young ophthalmologist and I was shocked by what I found. People brought blind people from 250km away – these people needed to see. About 60% were blinded by onchocerciasis. And I had to say I’m sorry, I cannot do anything for you to the young fisherman I was talking to, maybe 26 years old. He said ok, well then I will just have to kill myself. Then in October 1987, Mectizan came in and I didn’t have any choice – as an ophthalmologist I had to do something. This is how I got involved. Thanks to CBM, I was fortunate enough to go and visit these places and deliver Mectizan throughout northeastern Congo using CBM’s aircraft.
Now these Community Directed Treatment with Ivermectin (CDTI) projects are some of the best. I left the project in the hands of a young doctor when I left to do my MPH. Today, he is one of APOC’s expert consultants. So I am very proud of what we’ve done in DRC.
Now I’m going back and my desire is to go back and be a coach for young people because they can do more than what I’ve done. I’m going back to motivate young people and to move ahead the agenda of NTDs.