Bernard Philippon, OPC General Secretary and global specialist in onchocerciasis, recognised by Dr Tim Evans of the World Bank

{Photo : Dr Tim Evans}

Speaking on 2nd April at a conference marking two years since the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases, Dr Tim Evans, Director of Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank (left), said :

"NTDs are major constraints on development, on the development of children and their opportunities for education as well as the ability for adults to engage in productive work. And therefore addressing them is not simply providing the opportunity for an entitlement to health, but also to really eliminate extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity.

"I’d like to [talk about] why we’re here. Many people may not recognise this, but we’re here primarily because of two French scientists. In the early 1970s an epidemiologist by the name of René Le Berre and also a parasitologist by the name of Bernard Philippon (below right) convinced the World Bank president at the time, Robert McNamara, to visit Burkina Faso and go to a village, a hyper-endemic village for onchocerciasis (river blindness) and see what it looked like. It was Robert McNamara and his wife who saw the impact of that disease in terms of the very, very high levels of blindness in the adult productive population, and also the impact on the evacuation or non-use of fertile river valleys, which led the World Bank to make its first investment in health.

{Photo : Bernard Philippon}

"I think had that visit not taken place, had those researchers not had the wherewithal to get the World Bank president to come and see the extent to which onchocerciasis was such a fundamental constraint to development in West Africa, then I might not have been on this panel today. The Bank may never have entered health, so I have René Le Berre and Bernard Philippon to thank for my presence here today. But really I think it should be recognised that those researchers were the seed for getting the World Bank involved in health."