David Oguttu, a parasitologist with the ministry of health in Uganda, is a champion for the fight against river blindness, or onchocerciasis, in his community.

"It is really devastating. When you see an oncho patient [who is] suffering, it's really bad," he says.

Oguttu's BS degree in biomedical lab technology underpins his day-today work at a scientific laboratory in Kampala, where, as a senior lab technician, he is actively involved in the surveillance, detection and ultimate elimination of the disease.

Oguttu grew up in Uganda’s Busia district, which is not endemic for river blindness. But after he witnessed people in his village suffering and dying from another parasitic disease, schistosomiasis, he decided to pursue his interest in biomedical science in order to help the community through public health work.

"This is one of the first labs for this kind of [river blindness elimination] technique in Africa," Oguttu says about the work he feels "grateful" to be able to do.

"I enjoy lab work," he says, adding that morbidity levels have decreased in the years since the lab was set up in 2007, and all affected communities are now being reached.

"Flies are collected and sent here, we extract the DNA, we want to see if any of the flies is carrying a parasite." Oguttu says. "Where they cannot detect any infection in the field, they suspect that they have eliminated the disease."

Screening children is also a key part of the detection and elimination process, he says. "We want to see whether these children have ever got infected by the worm which causes river blindness so we take blood spots and screen them."

"And if we find no exposure in the children below 10 years, and we don't find any infection in the flies, then we are happy. We say yes, elimination is being achieved. That is a joy," he adds.

"There is nothing greater in the community you can do than eliminating diseases which are haunting them."

Oguttu 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.

Source: Al Jazeera