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Neglected Tropical Diseases: Prof. Nwoke shines light on Prof. Celestine Onwuliri’s pioneering efforts

Prof. B.E.B Nwoke
Late Professor Celestine Onwuliri
Prof. (Mrs.) Viola Onwuliri
Prof. Oparaoji, the 2020 Lecturer
Dr. Chinemerem. D. Onwuliri

Former Vice Chancellor of the Imo State University (IMSU), Professor Bertram. E. B. Nwoke, Thursday, November 4, 2021, gave a glowing account of the pioneering efforts of late Professor Celestine Onwuliri in the areas of research, control and elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

The occasion was the 9th Edition of the Professor C.O.E Onwuliri Memorial Lecture which was held virtually with participants drawn from all over the world.

Professor Nwoke, a Fellow of the Academy of Science (FAS) and a renowned Professor of Public Health Parasitology and Entomology, spoke on the theme of the Lecture: “Prof. C. O. E. Onwuliri: Legacies in the Science, Control and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases in Nigeria.”

The Lecture Series was instituted to immortalize Professor Celestine Onyemobi Elihe Onwuliri, a former Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology (FUTO), Owerri, Imo State. The late academic, who was also Vice Chancellor of the University of Jos, was a world acclaimed Professor of Parasitology.

The Chairman of the event was Professor Ekanem Ikpi-Braide, currently the first female President of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), a former Vice Chancellor of the Cross River State University, Calabar and pioneer Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Lafia, Nasarawa State. 75 year old Professor Ikpi-Braide, also a foremost Parasitologist, is equally a pioneer.

Before the Lecture commenced, Professor Viola Onwuliri, the wife of Professor C.O.E Onwuliri, herself a distinguished academic and two-time Minister of Nigeria, took participants down memory lane, outlining the origin of the Series, those who had delivered the Lectures in the past and the prominent personalities who Chaired each of the sessions.

Professor Nwoke, in his Lecture, gave a detailed account of the painstaking and selfless efforts made by Professor Onwuliri to bring to national and international attention the still largely ‘Neglected Tropical Diseases’ (NTDs).

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than one billion people, approximately one-sixth of the world’s population, especially those living in the tropics and subtropics, suffer from at least one NTD. NTDs can lead to death, but more often cause significant disability that persists for a lifetime, including fatigue, blindness, disfigurement and inability to work, which reinforces the vicious cycle of poverty.

Professor Nwoke noted in his lecture, among others, that much of the baseline data being used in the study and treatment of these diseases were generated by Professor Onwuliri and his team as they traversed sometimes largely inaccessible and very remote parts of the country, under very difficult conditions, in the course of their pioneering work.

He gave vivid accounts of their research trips to end-of-the-road parts of Ebonyi, Plateau, Benue, Kano, Jigawa states etc to research and document these diseases and provide direly needed cures to people who often could never have afforded or had access to the remedies for the debilitating conditions brought upon them by these diseases some of which have been controlled or eliminated as a result of the giant strides of Professor Onwuliri and his team.

From Professor Nwoke’s Lecture, as well as from contributions of participants, it became apparent that the late Professor Onwuliri pursued his work with missionary zeal and with great compassion for the hapless people, some of who would have still been under the bondage of these preventable and curable diseases.

Thankfully, Professor Onwuliri has left worthy disciples in the mold of Professor Nwoke who, from his rich and passionate presentation of the Lecture, would ensure that the fire he lit continues to burn and that the legacy of the great son of Umuokazi, Amuzi, Ahiazu Mbaise in Imo state, Nigeria is kept alive.

To ensure that the chain is not broken, a new generation of young people received scholarships as part of the Memorial program and from among them, would, hopefully sprout more selfless scientists and researchers who would push back further the frontiers of knowledge.

Many of the several Professors, medical experts and professionals in other disciplines who were part of the Lecture also spoke glowingly of the commendable legacies of Professor Onwuliri, not only in the area of research into the NTDs but in other areas of life, including community service, philanthropy and moral rectitude, stressing the need to ensure the perpetuation of these laudable legacies.

It is also expected that governments, at all levels, and the international community would, as a result of the extensive work already done by Professor Onwuliri and his team, begin to take steps to ensure that these diseases are no longer categorized as Neglected Tropical Diseases through better funding of research into them and production of drugs and vaccines for their control and or total elimination.

A communiqué is expected from the  program, which was very capably moderated by one of the children of Professor Onwuliri, Dr. Dan Chinemerem Onwuliri.

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