Dr Moses Katabarwa has dedicated himself to eliminating river blindness, playing a key role in community based initiatives in Uganda. But had the course of history been different, his career may not have been the same.
Now a senior epidemiologist at the Carter Center in Atlanta in the US, as a young man growing up in Uganda, Katabarwa had initially hoped to become a medical doctor.
But everything changed when fate intervened and the government was overthrown by Idi Amin in 1971. The ensuing civil war, and some personal struggles, led Katabarwa to the neglected disease.
“My first experience with river blindness was in western Uganda where I found a community totally devastated by this disease,” Katabarwa told Al Jazeera’s Lifelines.
“These guys couldn’t do much for themselves and so that gave me a cause to fight for,” he said.
Katabarwa took the Lifelines team to the West Nile region of Uganda where he tries to encourage use of Mectizan, a river blindness treatment drug that has to be administered once a year. How did he plan to do it?
“My idea was we go and mobilise these people, educate them and provide them the medicines. They treat themselves and they report back,” he said.
This community based solution was not initially well-received by health authorities. But to circumvent any roadblocks to getting the treatment across, Katabarwa decided to test both the government’s system and his own, and presented the findings thereafter.
“The more we promoted the family based distribution, the higher the treatment coverage became,” he said.
Katabarwa never got to become a medical doctor, but his work with communities has changed the face of public health in Uganda.
“When it comes to the work I’m doing I feel that I’ve touched many lives, touched people who have never been reached,” he said. “And so that gives me the inner satisfaction. Emotionally I am at home, I am at peace.”
Katabarwa is one of many health heroes on Lifelines: The Quest for Global Health.
Lifelines: The Quest for Global Health will air on Al Jazeera in 2014.