More than two decades ago, Uche Amazigo came to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) from Nigeria to spend a year as a fellow in the Takemi Program in International Health. A university lecturer and biologist with training in public health and parasitology, and with a specialty in tropical diseases, Amazigo had already conducted groundbreaking research on onchocerciasis, or river blindness—uncovering the social isolation, suffering, and disability caused by the disfigurement and unrelenting itching from the disease.
Amazigo says her experience as a Takemi Fellow—a year of learning, researching, and thinking about policy issues—helped focus her work and transformed her career, propelling her to a global leadership role in the control of onchocerciasis. Research she worked on as a Takemi Fellow helped spur the launch of the World Health Organization’s African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (WHO/APOC) in 1995. Amazigo joined WHO in 1996 and served as director of WHO/APOC from 2005-2011. During her time there, she helped expand onchocerciasis control programs in Africa from 11 to 19 countries and pioneered a path-breaking, community-driven strategy for treating the disease with ivermectin. For her work on onchocerciasis and her leadership at APOC, Amazigo received the prestigious Prince Mahidol Award for Public Health in 2012, a major achievement in global health.