A few months ago I had no idea what neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) were, until I went into rural Zimbabwe with a team of people on a mission to combat the five most common of these diseases: intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis, trachoma and river blindness. I was amazed at the level of impact very little resources can make in a community and a nation.

NTDs are a group of infectious diseases that inflict suffering and chronic disability on over a billion of the world’s most impoverished people. They are causing worldwide economic losses due to their disabling impact on people’s lives.

In Zimbabwe, organizations like the END Fund and Higherlife Foundation are working together with the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) to find a way to combat them. Below are some of the key statistics of these neglected diseases:

  • People at risk globally: 3 billion
  • People already suffering from at least one disease globally: 1.6 billion
  • Annual deaths if not treated: 500,000 people

Think of what these statistics mean: billions of people are already suffering from these diseases. I can almost imagine the questions you are asking yourself now:

“How can this be?”

“How do we not know about this?”

“Is there a cure for these diseases?”

“What exactly are they?”

“Could I be suffering from them?”

“How can I help?”

These are the exact same questions I asked myself when I was introduced to NTDs. What really struck me was my own ignorance. I hadn’t heard much about these diseases before and when I asked a few of my friends, it didn’t surprise me that they were equally in the dark.

What I learned really saddened me, along with other members of the Global Shapers community, a network of “hubs” developed and led by young people. After a presentation on NTDs, We decided to get involved in the fight. Just 72 hours later, I was on the road, heading to witness a mass drug administration (MDA) taking place in rural Zimbabwe.

We traveled to a rural primary school, where we were excited to find all 500 students at the school undergoing treatment. I watched in amazement as this quick and simple, yet effective way of treatment was immediately impacting hundreds of children while using very little resources.

Once back in Harare, members of the Shapers hub decided to work towards launching #EndNTDsZW, a millennial-led awareness campaign launched to educate Zimbabwean citizens through social media.

So why should millennials care, let alone get involved in the fight against NTDs? Because in today’s world, they can make a huge impact.

  • We are the biggest group since the baby boomers, making us an influential part of any population.
  • We are the ones taking over the workforce now.
  • Investing in a future generation that is productive is in our best interest and will help shape the overall economy.
  • Being the largest and most influential part of any population means we are also likely to be the most affected by the diseases.
  • We are responsible for the success and wellbeing of the future generations, and it’s up to us to pass onto them an NTD free inheritance.
  • Not only would we change millions of lives suffering from death, stigma, depression and disability, which can be caused by NTDs, we could save $52 Billion by 2030 in Africa alone by ending these diseases.

And now here are four reasons how millennials can help us put an end to NTDs:

    1. Knowledge and use of social media
      Nobody knows how to use social media like a millennial. The number of connections they have and the amount of time they spend on social media is an invaluable contribution to any cause. Because of us, information travels faster and farther.
    2. Creativity
      We are creative individuals and that stems from a place of passion, where we want to see the causes we are involved in become a success. Our creative minds will paint a picture of hope in any situation.
    3. Energy
      We are highly energetic individuals and we are able to use some of our energy to fuel a fire in the lives of people, and in this case, fight these diseases.
    4. Big givers
      According to the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, 84% of millennials in the US made a charitable donation in 2014. This shows that we millennials are big givers and also big influencers, with 67% of millennial employees saying that they would be likely to donate if their peer co-workers also participated. Apart from financial resources, we are big givers of our time and skills.

I strongly believe that the future belongs to our generation. It is important for us to take action and begin to directly confront issues like NTDs, which will affect our future productivity and the generation after us.

Due to the global impact of NTDs and the number of people who suffer from them, it is not enough for the Global Shapers Harare Hub to embark on this campaign alone. This challenge requires a global approach with a generation that is active on social media playing their part in creating awareness for and of these diseases.

My call to young people is this: let’s begin to shape the future we want to live in now. After all, it is our inheritance. Let the movement begin to #EndNTDs!

This article was originally published by the World Economic Forum


The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Future Africa Forum.