03 September 2020
Yacine Djibo, Founder and Executive Director of Speak Up Africa
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are a crucial aspect of Senegalese society, functioning as a bridge between people and politics, as well as a catalyst for public health. We have seen before the power that civil society holds for driving change forward, with many now earning a place at high-level health discussions. There are many different initiatives a CSO can focus their efforts on, however, few are wider reaching than Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). NTDs, a group of approximately 20 diseases, afflict over one billion people around the world, but receive 0.6% of global funding. With 79% of African countries co-endemic for at least 5 of these diseases, there is clearly much work to be done, and CSOs can play a powerful role because of their proximity to the community and their advocacy skills.
CSOs have and continue to advocate for and hold stakeholders accountable for better health results but, as is often the case, these organizations are stronger together. That is why the creation of a community dedicated against NTDs is key to their elimination. Coalitions such as The No to NTDs Civil Society Network allow for organizations to pool resources and maximize the impact of their efforts. In Senegal, organizations have come together to share knowledge in the fight against NTDs, including L’Alliance Nationale des Jeunes pour la Santé de la Reproduction et la Planification Familiale (ANJ/SRPF), Environnement, Communautés, Santé et Sécurité (ECOSS) and the Hope for African Children Initiative (HACI). ANJ/SRPF focusses on sexual and reproductive health, ECOSS focuses on the environment and the community, and HACI was established to address the enormous challenge faced by millions of African children affected by AIDS. Each represents a different cause, however NTDs can affect anyone, and everyone has a role to play in their elimination. These differences make the coalition stronger, as each has a unique set of experiences and has overcome different challenges.
By combining their expertise, these CSOs have utilized their reach and influence to work towards ending NTDs and protect their fellow citizens. Each CSO has worked differently, complementing their abilities and reach to engage with everyone. ANJ/SRPF has held a series of workshops for officials that have resulted in politicians signing important pledges to combat NTDs. Community leaders and elected officials have a duty to protect their people, and through ANJ/SRPF’s work, they are one step closer to delivering on this. Meanwhile, HACI has worked with fellow CSOs, engaging 90 civil society leaders to ensure NTD programs are put in place. Through this, articles were drafted, declarations were signed, and the number of people committed to fighting NTDs increased.
These are just two elements where CSOs play a pivotal role in the fight for NTD control and elimination. The media also is also a key factor; reporters hold leaders accountable and spread information to the public. With an aim to increase the understanding of NTDs and how they can be eliminated, ECOSS took to radio stations to ensure that the messaging of the coalition reached everyone. These three CSOs then were able to work together to ensure that they reached those who needed support.
However, there is still more that can be done. 1 in 5 people in Senegal in 2018 did not receive the treatment they needed. Mass treatment for the elimination of NTDs typically costs less than US$ 0.50 per person. This is a small price to pay considering the life-long harm that an NTD can bring to both the affected individual, and to the wider community.
NTDs can lead to blindness and disfigurement, and among children increases the likelihood of malnutrition, cognitive impairment, or stunted growth. Those suffering from an NTD are less likely to attend school, and actively participate in communities. An often-misunderstood group of diseases, those with NTDs can be shunned by those around them, further contributing to the isolation that they feel. Through the “No to NTDs Civil Society Network”, everyone from policy makers to the general public are further involved in eliminating these diseases. The network provides a platform for CSOs, at all levels, to consult and collaborate with a view to maximize the impact of their efforts, particularly around enhancing accountability for increased sustainable funding for NTD control programs.
Better harmonization and integration of CSOs in health issues will result in a more rapid improvement of national and regional health outcomes.
By ensuring that health systems are robust, we will be able to support our population as it grows, who in turn will support our country. With one billion people in the world suffering from an NTD, it may be difficult to imagine a world-free from the diseases, however it is possible. After all, working against the odds to improve people’s living conditions is exactly what CSOs do.