In commemoration of the first-ever World Neglected Tropical Disease (NTDs) Day, hundreds of Senegalese youths and civic groups, January 30, converged on Dakar, Senegal. The gathering was convened by Speak Up Africa, in partnership with the Youssou N’Dour Foundation to raise awareness on NTDs
The term ‘neglected’ refers to giving insufficient attention to people, things, or events, even though they ultimately merit one`s immediate attention. This is true for a group of 20 debilitating infectious diseases, collectively known as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
NTDs affect about 1.5 billion people around the globe. They are reportedly present in 149 countries, largely in Africa, Asia and the Americas, where millions of people live in poverty and without access to adequate water and sanitation. Consequently, these diseases: river blindness, Leprosy, black fever, sleeping-sickness, amongst others, continue to disable, disfigure and kill children and adults alike while trapping communities in endless cycles of poverty, and costing developing nations billions of dollars, annually.
In Africa, about 600 million people are affected by NTDs; 79% of African countries are endemic for at least 5 out of the 20 NTDs and bear 40% of the global burden caused by the diseases. NTDs are preventable and treatable but governments, researchers, and pharmaceutical companies pay little or no attention towards the elimination of the diseases, hence only a meagre 0.6% of global healthcare funding is dedicated to the fight against NTDs.
In response, the ‘No to NTDs’ campaign was launched in 2018 by Speak Up Africa, the Dakar, Senegal-based policy and advocacy action tank working to catalyze dialogues, drive policy changes and create awareness for sustainable development in Africa.
It seeks to mobilize and engage individuals, political leaders, the private sector and civil society organizations, to raise awareness and increase prioritization and national engagement in the fight to end NTDs in Africa. Additionally, in 2019, civil society organisations led by Speak Up Africa from across Guinea, Niger, and Senegal launched the first civil society network dedicated to eliminating NTDs in on the continent: The Civil Society says ‘No to NTDs’ Network.
Dame Ndiaye, coordinator of the Senegalese nonprofit Youth National Alliance for Health and Family Planning, while speaking at the Speak Up Africa event in commemoration of the inaugural World NTDs Day, said: “Eliminating NTDs is a major challenge, not only for Senegal but for the entire African continent. More than ever, on this World NTDs Day, the civil society is ready and determined to work tirelessly each day to eliminate these diseases [in Africa]. The ‘No to NTDs’ movement is a real opportunity for civil society organizations to ensure our voices are heard and reinforce our role in the society.”
The first-ever World NTDs Day was announced last November, by the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, UAE, at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum. The inaugural event tagged: “#BeatNTDs. For all. For good,” provided a platform for global health experts, policymakers, community leaders, and civil society advocates; to mobilize for greater support and action on ending NTDs around the world as well as to inform the general public on NTDs and celebrate progress achieved thus far.
Sobel Aziz Ngom, the executive director of Social Change Factory, an African civic leadership centre, cum president of Speak Up Africa’s Youth Council, while speaking at the Dakar event observed that 2020 was set to be a defining year in the fight against NTDs in Africa.
“We are delighted to mark the first-ever World NTDs Day by mobilizing the younger generations in the fight against NTDs. Facilitating conversations around these diseases and their prevention is an important starting point to boost youth engagement in this fight that must be sustained and carried forward by Africa’s youth in future years,” Ngom said.
Also speaking at the event, Aida Coulibaly Ndour, president of the Youssou N’Dour Foundation noted that his foundation was committed to supporting the most vulnerable people, particularly young Senegelese children, to thrive and have access to quality education. “NTDs hinder the wellbeing of everyone, by causing obstacles to education, employment and sustainable development in Africa. We therefore join Speak Up Africa and its partners to celebrate World NTD Day and highlight our lifelong commitment to eliminating these diseases in Senegal, and beyond its borders,” said Ndour.
NTDs are still less prioritized by governments and thus lack sufficient domestic funding. Consequently, millions of poor people affected by these preventable and treatable diseases become vulnerable, discriminated against, and marginalized within society.
“Through the No to NTDs movement, we are proud to give a platform to our partners, enabling each of them to educate, inform and engage others on this issue and to put an end to these diseases. Today, from Dakar and Conakry, to Niamey and Burkina Faso, we raise our voices together to say No to NTDs. Our goal is to ignite collective action through words, and to transform engagement into tangible action so that nobody, anywhere, lives at risk of NTDs,” says Yacine Djibo, Speak Up Africa’s executive director.
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