A group of young people planning to ‘disrupt’ a ministerial-led media event might sound alarming, but there was no need to worry as 27 year-old Jenny Njuki addressed the panel at Monday’s launch of the Kigali Summit on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
Jenny is a member of the newly formed Youth Combatting NTDs initiative, a youth-led movement aimed at engaging and empowering young people to help fight the elimination of NTDs across sub-Saharan Africa.
Group member Jenny took the opportunity to speak out during the questions and answers session of the launch. Addressing the room, which included country ambassadors, politicians and the Minister of Health, Honourable Dr Diane Gashumba, Jenny was powerfully polite in her remarks: “Young people should be considered equal partners in the struggle against malaria and NTDs. Youth should not wait to be invited to the table, they must demand a place. We young people commit to join the fight to eliminate neglected tropical diseases.”
Putting their commitments into immediate action, Gerald Chirinda, Founder of Future Africa Forum and Youth Combating NTDs, arranged a round table discussion for the very next day, taking the opportunity to invite Thoko Elphick-Pooley and Okito Wedi from Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases to speak.
The meeting was well attended by a range of young people with backgrounds in social enterprise, medical research and NGOs, as well as health educators and students.
“Young people are a vital component to raising awareness about these devastating diseases to communities everywhere,” announced Thoko. “Their creativity and influence online and offline is unparalleled.” Addressing the representatives of the youth forum, Thoko said: “With your energy, I am confident we will be able to beat NTDs for good.”
Rallying support in the room, Thoko continued: “This is the generation that could see historic achievements in the fight against NTDs. We don’t want young people in the future to be limited by the same preventable and treatable diseases that affected their parents and grandparents. We need to break this cycle. This is the decade to put an end to diseases of poverty and amplify the fight against NTDs.”
Gerald was delighted by the enthusiasm and commitment of the young group: “I am excited to see how this movement is taking shape. Witnessing the conversation and the interest towards NTDs building up amongst young people across Africa and other parts of the world is so rewarding and inspiring.”
Speaking after the meeting, Jenny observed: “The thing that strikes me most is that these diseases are preventable and treatable. They are diseases of poverty and the injustice of that makes me angry. It makes me want to take action. I want to be part of the youth movement to combat NTDs as I know we could be the generation to bring about lasting change.
“I’m excited to be involved in shaping our commitment to this fight and agreeing next steps for Youth Combatting NTDs. Watch this space!”