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The man who fought River Blindness


Thirty years ago, it was common in Africa to see a child afflicted by River Blindness (onchocerciasis) or blinded by a – perfectly treatable – condition such as cataract. That this is much less frequent today is due in no small part to Barrie Jones and those he trained with such dedication.

Barrie Jones was born in New Zealand in 1921. He came to Britain in 1951 for postgraduate training, enrolling at the Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital. He had a brilliant career. In 1963 he was appointed the first Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology at the University of London.

There he was an innovator who dramatically improved diagnostic methods, developed new surgical procedures and contributed to more effective treatments. But all the time he was aware that six million people worldwide were blind due to trachoma, a contagious bacterial infection of the eye, a condition he thought should and could be treated.

A man of compassion - fieldwork in Iran and Nigeria

So at the same time he was teaching and helping to raise a family, Barrie Jones devoted twelve years carrying out fieldwork in Iran "on the isolation and culture of the causative organism, Chlamydia trachomatis, its transmission within impoverished communities, and its control". In 1981 he resigned from London University to establish the International Centre for Eye Health to train professionals who could bring eye health to the poor.

To be poor and blind! How difficult life must be. Barrie Jones understood. He was "a man of compassion".

With help from donors, Barrie Jones embarked "on a large clinical trial in Nigeria, which showed the efficacy of the drug Ivermectin in the prevention of River Blindness". Finally there was a treatment for this illness, caused by the proliferation of worms in the body.

When he was 81, Jones went back home to New Zealand. He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Pauline, and by their daughter and three sons.

To laugh often
and love much;

to win. . . the affection
of children;

to earn the approbation
of honest citizens. . .

To appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to give of one’s self;

. . .to know even one life
has breathed easier
because you have lived.

-Attributed to Emerson
Ave atque Vale.

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