Standing on the bank of the fast-flowing Gambia River in Senegal, Daniel Boakye observed fly collectors as they waited for flies to land. Stationed at the breeding site, the collectors’ job was to capture each one of the small black flies into a glass tube. They would then be sent to the lab to be tested for the presence of the parasite that causes river blindness – a disease that can lead to blindness and painful skin infections for the 205 million people worldwide who are at risk.
Daniel saw a fly collector using one tube per fly and stepped in to show him how to transfer multiple flies into a single tube. It was important to preserve the limited vials that were needed to collect the required 6,000 flies per breeding site. He held one fly-filled tube up to the sun, then held another one against it so the openings were touching and watched as the fly in one tube flew into the other towards the light.
Daniel quickly capped it and handed it back to the fly catcher, signaling him to continue the crucial work they were all involved in. This is only one step in the complicated process of reaching the last mile for river blindness. For years the goal was to control the disease as a public health problem,
but that goal has since been moved to elimination. With this shift comes the need for monitoring and evaluation. We need to know exactly where each country stands on the road to elimination, where the disease might still exist, and where it is completely absent.
That’s where Daniel, a medical entomologist and END Fund partner on our RLMF programs, comes in. With the NTD community’s goal to reach the end of river blindness, his decades of experience dealing with insects like the black fly is important, and even he admits there aren’t many people left with his level of expertise in the technical aspects of river blindness elimination. From locating fly breeding sites and finding larvae living on vegetation, to being able to sort through and screen the insects in a lab, Daniel has done it all. And though he continues to play a crucial role in eliminating this preventable disease, he realizes that the next generation of experts will be vital to finish the job.