Long before Bill Clinton set out to save the world with his own nonprofit, hitting up every funder he could, Jimmy Carter had demonstrated the power of the post-presidency to mobilize cash and partners to tackle tough problems.
Carter and the Carter Center are still at it, and one of their top targets is onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, which is a debilitating disease affecting poor populations in 36 countries across Africa and Latin America.
The Carter Center’s list of global health partners is literally the who’s who in this funding space, which includes both NGOs and government organizations like the Gates Foundation and the UK's Department of International Development. Which is why we find it surprising that we don’t hear more about the center and its global health work these days. For example, the Carter Center just received a $10 million grant from the Nigeria-based Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF), to very little fanfare.
The $10 million grant is the largest the center has received from an individual African donor in its history. The grant will fund the center’s plans to eliminate river blindness in Nigeria by 2020.
The Carter Center has been working in Nigeria since 1988, when the country’s government extended an invitation to the center to help it eradicate another scourge disease plaguing Africa’s most populous nations—Guinea worm. The center plodded along in its Guinea worm fight, making measurable but modest progress. In 2005, it received a game-changing $25 million grant from the Gates foundation. Just three years later, the Gates Foundation gave the center another $63 million.
Judging from the successes of the Guinea worm campaign, chances are good that the Carter Center will realize the same level of success in its war against river blindness.
The caveat, however, is that while Guinea worm is considered an eradicable disease, river blindness is not. For the Carter Center, this was but a small matter that led to a shift in its river blindness strategy from eradication to elimination—and the strategy is working. In 2013, Columbia became the first country in the world that was granted official verification of the elimination of river blindness by the WHO and in 2014, Ecuador became the second.
In Africa, where an estimated 99 percent of river blindness cases exist, the story is a little different. And while eradication efforts are making progress, there’s still a way to go. It’s the hope of both the Carter Center and SEOF that the latest $10 million give will encourage more African donors to contribute to the center’s river blindness program. And if the give from SEOF encourages few game-changing donations from the center’s long list of partners, all the better.