Women often play a critical and under-reported role in the effort to end neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). This work relies on millions of volunteers who help to distribute medicine during mass drug administrations. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this job more difficult, but women around the world have stepped up to ensure these programs continue.
The END Fund worked with Yagazie Emezi, a Nigerian artist and photojournalist, to document the stories of these women, who are often unrecognized and under-rewarded, on the frontlines of protecting their communities from NTDs.
NTDs are a group of parasitic and bacterial diseases that can cause impaired cognitive development, swollen limbs, irreversible blindness and even death. In Nigeria, more than 120 million people require treatment for at least one NTD.
Many community drug distributors come from the same communities they serve. Afiniki Salle is a community health volunteer in the community of Gazi in Gombe, Nigeria. Afiniki was quiet and diligent with her work, using a dose pole, she carefully calculated and recorded the correct dose for each patient based on their height. Her gentle approach of interacting with her community put many at ease.
“I feel safe doing this work because before we started the work, we were provided with so many things like hand sanitizer and face masks. And we use it before starting any work. I feel equipped and not afraid because a lot has been provided to protect me from the virus. I do this work because I live in this area and want to help people in my community that are suffering from these diseases.”
–Jummai Muhhamed, Community Drug Distributor
In July 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended re-starting mass drug administrations for neglected tropical diseases. The treatment for these diseases happens once or twice a year. If communities continued to miss treatments, it is likely that years of progress towards ending these diseases would be wiped away.
The WHO issued guidelines on how to re-start programs while taking precautions against COVID-19. Instead of gathering entire communities together to distribute medicine in places like schools, markets or houses of worship, community drug distributors would go house to house handing out medicine.
Jummai volunteered to be a health worker because she knew that the medicine would help her family and community. Along with her siblings, she had to stop her education because of the pandemic. “I do this work because I live in this area and want to help people in my community that are suffering from these diseases,” she told Yagazie Emezi.