Madam Mary Becheyiri was born 62 years ago in Asubende, a village that was hyperendemic for onchocerciasis. In 1995, she was hired by the former Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP) to manage key supplies that the OCP stored at its Asubende depot, including aviation fuel and insecticides.
In 1998, when it became necessary to select community drug distributors (CDDs) from each onchocerciasis endemic village to distribute ivermectin tablets to at-risk populations, Aunty Mary as she is affectionately called, became the obvious choice to represent the Asubende village. Despite experiencing some initial resistance from her male counterparts, who didn’t consider women capable of doing the job, her resilience and passion to free her people from the scourge of onchocerciasis (which at the time had a blinding rate of over 40%), spurred her on to mobilize, sensitize and treat community residents with ivermectin tablets. Now, she supervises vector collectors for entomology surveillance, ensuring that they stay at their posts and that they follow proper procedures for collecting, preserving, packaging and labeling black flies for eventual collection by health staff.
Although blinding onchocerciasis incidence has dropped to 0%, meaning that no new cases of blinding onchocerciasis are being reported, Aunty Mary continues to go about her work today with the same diligence that has earned her recognition as one of the NTD Programme’s best CDDs.