Amazigo, Nigeria’s Public Health Specialist Bags Another International Award

By Paul Ejime

Prof Uche Veronica Amazigo

Uche Veronica Amazigo, Nigeria’s internationally renowned Professor of Medical Parasitology and Public Health specialist has been awarded this year’s Dr Domique Kyelem Prize, given annually to individuals for outstanding contributions to research and the implementation of programmes for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) control and elimination.

The prize is in honour of Dr. Dominique Kyelem, known not only for his career achievements, but also for his positive personal attributes in support of the control and elimination of NTDs.

The Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center announced Prof Amazigo, as winner of the coveted prize at the recent annual meeting of the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD) in the United States.

“To many with us today, Dr. Amazigo is already a friend and mentor …(with) extraordinary impact on communities with onchocerciasis (river blindness) and with profound ripple effects on both health delivery systems and on primary health care more broadly,” said Eric Ottesen, former Director and special advisor to the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center.

A former Director of the World Health Organization’s African Programme for Onchocerciasis (River blindness) Control, (WHO/APOC), Prof Amazigo is a leading figure in the design, introduction and scaling up of community-directed treatment with Ivermectin (CDTI) strategy used by the WHO and partners for the control of river blindness and other neglected tropical diseases across countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Her passion and compassion are illustrated by her numerous engagements with remote villages across Africa, listening to and supporting the most vulnerable of the poor.

A recipient of several awards in public health, including the prestigious Prince Mahidol Award 2012 and the Hallmark of Labour Role Model Award for outstanding contributions to                                            the field of public health in 2018, Prof. Amazigo’s over three decades focus on women’s health and on community engagement represent major public health contributions that have positively improved countless lives in Africa.

Her belief and perseverance in allowing communities to become actors of their own health has been outstanding, shifting the drug-delivery system from mobile teams to the community – a revolutionary concept started in the 1990s and has shown to be highly effective and sustainable on a large scale in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa.

Today, the CDTI model has made it possible for some 500,000 communities to continue to play a lead role in accessing and distributing medicines to prevent and treat diseases such as river blindness, elephantiasis and worms plaguing endemic populations, and in strengthening community health systems across 31 countries, especially while she was Director of WHO/APOC from 2005-2011.

Prof Amazigo received Ph.D. in Biology and Medical Parasitology from the University of Vienna, Austria, a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Parasitology from the Bernhard-Nacht Institute of Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany, and a Fellowship in International Health from Harvard School of Public Health, U.S.A.

Acknowledging the award, she paid tribute to Dr Kyelem, saying he “sacrificed his life touching lives of hundreds of the most vulnerable and poor people,” adding: “I am honoured and proud to be a recipient of this award which commemorates his achievements and positive attributes.”

Prof Amazigo is still involved in public health services through her NGO that supports school feeding, eye health and education in resource-poor communities. She described the latest award for which she was also nominated by the Parasitology and Public Health Society of Nigeria among others, as “an encouragement to continue working for the elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), and mentor young scientists in research on NTDs.”

This year, nominations for the Kyelem Prize were solicited from more than 1,600 individuals with Prof Amazigo emerging victorious from 14 finalists considered by a panel of global health experts, including representatives from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

The Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD) is a forum for researchers, programme implementers and their supporters with the shared goal of optimizing NTD control and elimination globally.

Supported by grants principally from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.K. aid by the U.K. Government, the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center at the Task Force for Global Health serves as the Coalition Secretariat.

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