Using visual media to raise awareness of NTDs

NTD-Competitions-BlogImage-1Today we’ve posted an essay by Keng Hou Mak, a Ph.D. candidate in the Integrative Molecular and Biomedical Sciences Program at Baylor College of Medicine and one of five winners of a student competition on raising awareness of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) — a group of parasitic, viral and bacterial infections that afflict mainly those living in extreme poverty.

The writing contest and related outreach competition are associated with a Sept. 29-30 Baker Institute conference on NTDs in the U.S. and Mexico. One winning essay will be featured here each week leading up the conference.

The public is invited to attend the Baker Institute NTD conference, but an RSVP is required. Please click here for more information and to register for the event.

I was telling a friend about the many Africans affected by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and how these diseases perpetuate poverty. She was convinced of their global importance. But apparently, my speech did not stir her until I told her the scabies she just recovered from was one of the NTDs. This is a clear example showing that the collective term “NTDs” might be confusing. The term might seem even more removed from Americans who do not live in the poorest neighborhoods and have never contracted any of the NTDs; such people are mostly unaware of the pain and suffering caused by NTDs, despite their far-reaching socioeconomic significance for the affected population and America as a whole.

One way to relate and link individual NTDs to the public is through visual means. A quick Google search for “neglected tropical diseases” returns few impressive images — mostly of African children in a poor village setting. Therefore, for current and future campaigns, we need to generate diverse visual materials that the public can relate to.

Another property of NTDs, unlike many household-name diseases, is that many of them are readily preventable at a negligible cost, with tremendous gains in the quality of life and productivity of the affected. A fundraising campaign that makes use of this fact will get the message through to the public. I am proposing the following campaign that combines these two concepts through the use of social media:

Campaign: Five NTs (Neglected Truths) About NTDs

The campaign starts with a 2D graphic design contest with themes on important messages about NTDs, and then generates an online presence with a slideshow article on five neglected facts about NTDs, using materials from the design contest. The online article will be set up to allow small, fixed donations through a one-touch method.

  1. 2D Graphic Design Contest

Why 2D visual: It is versatile, powerful and instant. 2D visuals can be adapted to different media and for various uses, can be more powerful than texts, and can stir up an instant response from viewers, which cannot be achieved by videos.

Goals: Increase awareness among contestants and encourage them to think more deeply about NTDs through the creation process. Generate visual materials for the rest of the campaign and for future use.

Who participates: Open to the public. It will in particular be advertised to students through NTD groups in schools.

Format: 2D visuals in all forms, including infographics, memes, photos, graphics, and comics.

Topics: Five core messages determined by the campaign organizers — for example, the parasite-poverty loop, NTDs are on American soil, the broad (and often invisible) impacts of NTDs, and the seven most common NTDs.

How to determine the winner: Contest entries are displayed under each of the “neglected facts” in the online slideshow article. The entry that gathers the most “likes” from the public within a period of time (e.g., four weeks) is the winner.

Possible alternate uses of the materials: A Wikipedia page or an image collection for NTD groups at schools and universities

  1. Online Slideshow Article on “Five NTs (Neglected Truths) About NTDs”

Why five: This format of article — e.g., “Top 10 Restaurants in Houston” or “Five Things You Didn’t Know About Cats” —is the most likely to be shared on social media, which will increase the chance of getting the messages to more people.

Goals: Generate an online presence by sharing the article for fundraising and spreading the message. Create a platform to determine the winner of the contest.

Contents of the article: The article will be organized into five slides on the core messages used for the contest. The text of the article will include relevant information about each message, provided by the organizing committee from the relevant literature and sources. The images for the slideshow will come from the contestants in the 2D design contest. A “Donate” link, described below, will also be included. NTD-focused groups in schools and contestants are expected to be the first to share the article on social media.

  1. One-Touch Donation

Just 50 cents can protect a person from the seven most common NTDs for a year. The campaign can use this fact to get more people involved and, importantly, to demonstrate how easy it is to make a difference — and how important, given the socioeconomic significance of NTDs. To do this, I propose a fundraising component that requests a fixed amount small enough that people would seldom hesitate to donate (e.g., $5). To make the process even easier, the donation can be collected in the form of the charge from downloading an app. People who wish to donate can download an app, and since their accounts for the Apple app store or Google Play are linked to their credit card information, the donation can be done in one step. The app could simply be a chart showing daily updates on the amount raised by the campaign; it can also show how many people can be saved from NTDs since the start of the campaign. This gives the donor a sense of being part of a bigger community that fights against NTDs.

This part of the campaign complements the previous part on generating an online presence, since we need to reach as many people as possible for the small amount each person donates.

Keng Hou Mak, originally from Hong Kong, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Integrative Molecular and Biomedical Sciences Program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. His interest in neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) started with his thesis project on the evolutionary conservation of a stress signaling mechanism, which he studied in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, a small, non-parasitic nematode. Mak learned that this worm, which has been studied extensively, could be used to provide the knowledge and tools needed to understand the parasitic nematodes that cause NTDs. He was struck by the impact of basic science on global socioeconomic issues, such as those caused by NTDs, and realized that education and community outreach was also critical to making a difference.

This essay originally appeared on the Baker Institute Blog.

Top News Stories

Come here every month to see the most important news on NTDs!

1. The Effect of Elephantiasis on Mental Health Highlighted for the First Time – BioMed Central, July 31
2. Trachoma Risk Tied to Sleeping Near Cooking Fires, Lack of Ventilation – Newswise, August 4
3. Govt Targets 105 Million Indonesians in Filariasis Eradication Program – Jakarta Globe, August 7
4. Goals Must Tackle Neglected Tropical Diseases – Skoll World Forum, August 10
5. America Has to Cope With Resurgence of Tropical Disease – The Science Times, August 16
6. Global Initiative for River Blindness Vaccine Strengthens in Africa – Vaccine News Daily, August 18
7. Posters, Bullhorns and Skirts Help Spread the Word About Vaccines – NPR, August 23
8. WHO Promotes Water, Sanitation to Battle Neglected Tropical Diseases – Reuters, August 27
9. Using the Voice of the Church – Catholic Health Association of the United States, August 31
10. River Prawns Stop Diseases Spread in West Africa – Phys.Org, August 25

A Call to Compassion and Unity

Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez speaks at A Call to Compassion

Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez speaks at A Call to Compassion

Over the past nine years, USAID’s Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Program has delivered more than 1.3 billion treatments to nearly 600 million people across 32 countries. USAID’s work with NTDs is a shining example of the power of public-private partnerships to leverage existing resources that stretch the impact of U.S. foreign aid dollars. In the FY 2015 budget, Congress funded USAID’s NTD Program at $100 million, demonstrating continued U.S. leadership in global health.

Ahead of Pope Francis’ historic address to the U.S. Congress this Thursday, the Global Network was pleased to host an event celebrating the bipartisan commitment of the U.S. government in the fight against NTDs. The reception, “A Call to Compassion: Spotlight on NTDs,” sought to build further support for the NTD cause among Members of Congress, the Administration, the broader policy community, private sector partners and lay leaders in the Catholic Church.

Rep. Chris Smith speaks at A Call to Compassion

Rep. Chris Smith speaks at A Call to Compassion

We were thrilled to welcome Rep.Chris Smith (R-NJ) to speak, along with Reverend Thomas Streit, C.S.C., the Founder of the University of Notre Dame’s Haiti Program, Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health and Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator at USAID and Dr. Leonard Friedland, Vice President and Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Health for Vaccines in North America at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Reverend Pat Conroy, S.J., Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, concluded the program with a benediction.

We also appreciated the support of our co-sponsors: RTI International, FHI 360, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, GSK, University of Notre Dame’s Eck Institute of Global Health and Advocates for Development Assistance, as well as the coordination received from the Congressional Caucus on Malaria and NTDs — co-chaired by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) — and the Congressional Global Health Caucus — co-chaired by Rep. David Reichert (R-WA) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN).

Saint DamienSaint Damien of Molokai was a great source of inspiration for the event. St. Damien dedicated the last sixteen years of his life to caring for those with leprosy on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. He eventually succumbed to the disease in 1889 and was canonized in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. Leprosy is one of 17 NTDs targeted for control or elimination by the World Health Organization.

More than 1.4 billion of the world’s poorest people suffer from NTDs, including 500 million children. These diseases perpetuate poverty by causing blindness, malnutrition, anemia and disfigurement — preventing children from attending school and parents from going to work. Treatment for these diseases can cost as little as 50 cents per person, per year.

Guests at the reception learn about NTDs

Guests at the reception learn about NTDs

Inspired by Pope Francis’ call for Catholic communities to “become islands of mercy in a vast sea of indifference,” a historic conference will be held at the Vatican in May 2016. Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, the entity that coordinates and promotes the health care work undertaken by the Catholic Church, the conference will focus on “diseases of solidarity” – both rare and neglected tropical diseases. The Global Network is honored to be serving as the official planning partner for the NTD stream of the conference.

NTDs are a pervasive issue, threatening the health of one-fifth of the world’s population. It is a problem that cannot be tackled by one sector working alone. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “Saint Damien teaches us to choose the good fight, not those that lead to division, but those that gather us together in unity.” To see the end of these diseases requires the commitment of politicians, organizations, students, administrators, faith leaders, health care workers — all of us. We are grateful to welcome new partners to the NTD elimination effort and to find new sources of inspiration to sustain this fight.

The Global NGO Deworming Inventory: Taking Stock of Progress against NTDs

Child receiving treatment CameroonAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 873 million children are at risk of soil-transmitted helminths (STH), including roundworm, hookworm and whipworm. In children, STH infections can lead to malnutrition, anemia and stunting. In both adults and children, they can cause fatigue, intense abdominal pain and chronic diarrhea. In severe cases they can even cause bowel obstruction, rectal prolapse and appendicitis.

To improve health and development in infected communities and reduce the prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), WHO aims to control STH and schistosomiasis by 2020. Meeting this goal requires regularly deworming at minimum 75 percent of the preschool-age and school-age children who are at risk of STH or schistosomiasis. To ensure such an ambitious global goal is met, it is paramount that ministries of health, WHO and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) coordinate and share data.

WHO operates the Preventive Chemotherapy and Transmission Control (PCT) Databank, which tracks the number of children given PCT for STH, schistosomiasis and three other NTDs. The databank is populated largely by information reported by ministries of health and helps policymakers and implementers understand where deworming programs are active and where more interventions are needed to meet the WHO target of controlling STH and schistosomiasis by 2020.

However, gaps in the PCT Databank have become apparent. The 2013 STH preschool treatment data was recently revised when supplementary data was submitted by UNICEF. This data caused a 104 percent increase in the recorded number of preschool-age children treated for STH. Clearly, better coordination is needed to ensure the global community meets 2020 goals.

To facilitate better coordination among WHO, ministries of health and NGOs, the Global NGO Deworming Inventory collects data from NGOs administering deworming treatments for STH and schistosomiasis. The data are compiled into a single database with disease-specific information by Children Without Worms (CWW).

After the data are compiled, WHO will merge the CWW database with national program data provided by ministries of health to the PCT Databank. This effort will make deworming dollars go even further by strengthening program monitoring and leading to an efficient use of resources. Ultimately, it will be an important step in controlling STH and schistosomiasis.

You can learn more about the Global NGO Deworming Inventory — and implementers can submit their data — at