Sightsavers Celebrates Having Helped Over One Billion People

The UK-based charity Sight Savers was established to eliminate preventable blindness. Since its founding, Sight Savers has expanded its mission to include advocating for and educating the disabled.


In Africa, Sight Saver’s campaign against preventable blindness has the charity working with other charities, researchers, and national and local governments to eliminate Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Trachoma and River Blindness both lead to the loss of eyesight and are two of five NTDs that Sight Savers is trying to eradicate.


Last year, Sight Savers celebrated having treated their billionth patient. A gathering to celebrate this milestone featured the renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist the late Dr. Stephen Hawking as the keynote speaker. Dr. Hawking was chosen because of his father Dr. Frank Hawking’s work in the field of Neglected Tropical Diseases.


A prodigy himself the elder Hawking developed an interest in tropical diseases while working towards his medical degree at Oxford University. After graduating from Oxford he furthered his study of NTDs under the tutelage of Warrington Yorke at Liverpool University’s Department of Tropical Diseases. From Liverpool, Dr. Frank Hawking’s determination to eliminate tropical diseases took him to Africa.


The Second World War interrupted Dr. Frank Hawking’s research. He left Africa to aid in the defense of his native England. After the war, Dr. Hawking took a position with the St. Albans Hertfordshire based National Institute for Medical Research heading its Parasitology Department. Stephen Hawking credited his love of science to his father and the time he spent at the National Institute.


Never losing his interest in Neglected Tropical Diseases, Dr. Frank Hawking began studying the means used by nations that had eradicated NTDs. He concluded that China’s practice of keeping its canals free of human waste and snails held the answer to controlling other diseases. Dr. Hawking’s research would lead to the development of Diethylcarbamazine (DEC). DEC is used to treat lymphatic filariasis a.k.a. elephantiasis a parasitic disease that causes the limbs to swell to grotesque proportions.


Dr. Frank Hawking remained devoted to medicine his entire life. In lauding Sight Saver’s efforts in treating what is now one billion plus people Hawking declared, “The success of Sight Saver’s global filariasis program is part of Frank Hawking’s legacy.”