Daniel Shungu, founder of UFAR

United Front Against Riverblindness (UFAR) was founded and registered in the US in 2004 by Dr. Daniel Shungu, a former Merck & Co. Inc. employee who, as a Congolese by birth and a naturalized US citizen, was determined to give something back to his native country. The decision to establish UFAR was a logical conclusion from his prior discussions with national health authorities in the DRC and a field trip he undertook to several remote onchocerciasis-endemic villages in the country to see first hand the tragedy of onchocerciasis. UFAR was registered as a tax-exempt organization in the DRC in 2005, and it has now established an office in that country (Kinshasa, DRC). In 2010 Shungu was named a Purpose Prize Fellow, the nation’s only large-scale investment in social innovators in the second half of life.

Shungu went to Albion College in Michigan, has a PhD from the University of Maryland, and completed medical school at Temple University, but he did not take his MD board exams. He worked for Merck from 1980-2002, providing support to clinical and basic research, as well as marketing of Merck antibacterial and antifungal agents.

Daniel took early retirement from Merck in 2002 after his youngest son got a full scholarship to Duke in order to found UFAR. Shungu is highly respected as someone who was born in the country, spent over 40 years overseas, and who has returned to help his country. He makes two to three trips a year, and he spends one to three months there for each trip.

“Our project is to the east of the country in a remote and difficult to reach region. My major responsibilities are to ensure that the project coordinating team is properly fulfilling its duties – training, community motivation , ensuring that everyone who is eligible to get Mectizan, the drug for onchocerciasis also known as riverblindness provided free by the manufacturer (Merck), gets it once a year for at least 10 years for the disease to be eradicated. You can’t just assume that when you send the money the job gets done. My responsibility is to be there when the drug is distributed. My presence for the launch and during the community- based/community directed door to door distribution of Mectizan is very important and is greatly appreciated. We ensure proper dispension of the drug, accurate record keeping and proper accountability of funds provided by WHO (75% of the annual budget) and UFAR (20-25% ). The drug distribution data accurately recorded in the registers by trained community distributors are used by the project coordinator to prepare the report submitted annually to WHO for review. Proper completion of such reports and timely/accurate provision of justifications for the use of funds are required for subsequent funding by WHO and the NGO partners.”

When Shungu returns to the US, he makes the rounds of supporting organizations to report on the progress and to express his gratitude for their care and support . Updates are also regularly posted on UFAR web. “Civic groups, congregations and individuals are encouraged to subscribe to a newly instituted adopt-a-village program which provides an opportunity for truly getting involved and making a significant positive difference in the lives of our less fortunate brothers and sisters,” says Shungu.