Today 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.