For more than 34 years, Dr. Tony Ukety has been a leader in ophthalmology and public health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), across the continent of Africa and around the world. Through strong partnerships and a commitment to fighting neglected tropical diseases, Dr. Ukety has made an impact worthy of recognition.
In 1987, Dr. Ukety was the sole ophthalmologist in northeastern DRC, where he spent 17 years of his life dedicated to eye care. Following the launch of Vision 2020: The Right to Sight, he developed and implemented the first eye care program at the Evangelical Medical Center south of Bunia to support the largely rural area. The project addressed cataract, onchocerciasis and glaucoma through mobile outreach events, community distribution of medication and surgery. The first cases of trachoma in DRC were reported through this project.
Besides an impressive dedication to the local community, Dr. Ukety has been a champion of the fight against onchocerciasis (river blindness) around the world. Dr. Ukety initiated the Mectizan treatment program for onchocerciasis with donations from Merck & Co in DRC, which, despite protracted civil conflict in eastern DRC, has been successful. Throughout the years, Dr. Ukety made significant sacrifices for the control and elimination of onchocerciasis in DRC, including being captured and held overnight near an eye clinic he had helped establish.
After returning to school to obtain an Masters in Community Eye Health at the International Center for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a Masters in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Ukety served as the coordinator for the onchocerciasis control and elimination programs within both the Prevention of Blindness and Deafness Unit and the Department of Neglected Tropical Diseases at the World Health Organization (WHO). Collaborating with the Ministries of Health across more than 20 endemic countries, Dr. Ukety conducted high-level advocacy activities and strengthened partnerships in order to control and eliminate the blinding disease. In 2016, he published the WHO’s guidelines for verifying the elimination of onchocerciasis, which has contributed to the remarkable progress made towards elimination in Latin America and Africa.
Dr. Ukety has also contributed to trachoma elimination efforts in DRC. He trained a dozen ophthalmic nurses who went on to lead the trachoma mapping study in DRC that examined 141,853 individuals for trachoma and provided key insights into the widespread prevalence of trachoma.
Since his retirement from his position at the WHO, Dr. Ukety has worked as the technical advisor for Francophone Africa for the SightFirst program at Lions Clubs International Foundation. In this role, he has aided in the development and implementation of 16 comprehensive eye care programs across 11 African countries.
Dr. Ukety’s accomplishments through his leadership and advocacy in community eye health in Africa and the elimination of blinding diseases globally have significantly contributed to the success of Vision 2020 and aided eye health efforts at the local level. For this reason, we nominate him for the IAPB Vision Excellence Award.