Emory Report

November 1, 1999

 Volume 52, No. 10

Carter Center gets $30 million grant to fight blindness

In a luncheon/press conference held Oct. 21 at The Carter Center, President Jimmy Carter announced a grant of nearly $30 million over the next decade to the center for fighting trachoma and/or river blindness.

The grants, bestowed by the Lions Club International Foundation and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, are the center's largest project-specific grants ever. Joining Carter at the head table at the event were Jim Ervin, president of Lions Club International; Don Hubbs, chairman of the Hilton Foundation; and John Moores, chairman of Peregrine Systems.

"It's an extraordinary thing for a service club to help people around its own area, but for years Lions Club has been helping The Carter Center fight river blindness in the Sudan--where the first Lions Club chapter has yet to open," said Carter, a Lion himself. "This gift allows us to see the enormous growth and commitment of Lions Club."

Ervin said the Lions have been "fighting the darkness" of blindness since accepting a challenge from Helen Keller in 1925. From a total of $143 million from Lions chapters around the world, he said, more than 2.4 million people in 74 countries have been helped through the Lions' cataract program.

Hubbs said the Hilton Foundation, which averages $30 million a year in grant awards, "looked for a voice where no one was doing something to ease human suffering" and chose The Carter Center's blindness projects.

With the two grants, the center will establish over the next five years projects in 15 countries in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, affecting more than 110 million people at risk of contracting trachoma or river blindness. Carter said, like the center's other health projects, the new efforts will train local people to help their neighbors. "The primary credit goes to the people who live in those countries," he said. "They do 90 percent of the work."

Trachoma is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness. According to the center, 6 million people worldwide are blind due to trachoma, and another 540 million--nearly 10 percent of the world's population--are at risk of blindness or severe visual impairment, even though the disease is preventable through simple hygiene. River blindness is spread via parasites that enter the body through bites from blackflies, which breed in fast-moving water. Though an estimated 18 million people are infected and another 120 million are at risk, the disease is preventable by a single annual dose of medication.

To commemorate the occasion, Ervin presented Carter with a framed poster, the winner of a recent "peace poster" contest held by Lions Club. In return, Carter offered a replica of the life-sized statue sited at The Carter Center depicting an African boy leading a blinded man. The original statue was, in fact, commissioned by Lions Club.

One Lion from the crowd asked Carter to compare being head of his local Lions Club chapter to being president of the United States. With having to round up his fellow Lions for meetings, Carter quipped, the former was sometimes more difficult, "but more people knew about my difficulties when I was president."

-Michael Terrazas

Return to November 1, 1999 contents page