Africa Regional Director, World Health Organization
Dr. Samba won the 1992 Africa Prize for his exceptional leadership in the management of the Onchocerciasis Control Program (OCP), a program to eradicate river blindness cosponsored by the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank. Begun in 1974, OCP has sought to control transmission of the disease-causing parasite passed by the black fly by reducing the black fly population, as well as seeking medical treatment for the disease. Dr. Samba took command of the program in 1980, and has succeeded in delivering rapid, cost-effective benefits to millions of West Africans in a short period of time by promoting cooperation between UN agencies and West African nations.
Dr. Samba has been described as a "new kind of leader for Africa -- a nonpolitical statesman." Managing a staff of 800 scientists, physicians, field staff and pilots (97 percent of whom are African), he has led the most successful intercountry health project in Africa into its final stage in eradicating river blindness. He has been instrumental in stimulating funding for the search for suitable drug treatment for the disease. Despite political conflicts within and among the countries of the affected region, the OCP's reputation for honesty and efficiency under Dr. Samba's tenure has enabled the OCP to continue to operate across borders, unimpeded by political constraints.
Fertile river valleys that had become uninhabitable because of black-fly infestation have again become suitable for habitation and cultivation. Food security in the region has been improved, as nearly 25 million hectares (61.8 million acres) of river valleys throughout the 11 affected countries are being made safe for human settlement. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that the amount of cultivable land recovered by the program could feed as many as 10 million people each year.