April 20, 2017
Women play a crucial, and under recognised role, in the on-going fight against neglected tropical diseases. That is why the Women in Focus Awards, held at the 2017 Neglected Tropical Diseases Summit in Geneva on 19 April, was such an important event.
We would like to congratulate the winners for their outstanding work in the fight against NTDs, and to all those nominated for their inspirational work, whether that is at the community, national or international level.
We would like to extend special congratulations towards four nominees from the leprosy community; Sabittri Rani Roy (Bangladesh, Inspirational Award), Birke Nigatu (Ethiopia, Inspirational Award), Sunita Devi (India, Community Champion Award) and Valsa Augustine (India, Leadership Award) for their nominations.
Sabittri and Birke were affected by leprosy from a young age, and both experienced unnecessary stigma and discrimination from those around them.
Sabittri contracted leprosy at the age of 16 and became a trained tailor, despite the limitations of the disease. She went on to train over 100 women and girls and her work has gone a long way to reducing stigma against women affected by leprosy. By empowering women in her community, the isolation that leprosy can impose has been reduced.
Birke was only six when she contracted leprosy. Because of the stigma of the disease, she did not have the opportunity to gain a formal education. But like Sabittri, this did not stop her and she went on to save money for treatment and afterwards started an embroidery business, giving women affected by leprosy an opportunity to empower themselves.
The work of women like Valsa and Sunita is also integral in the integration of people affected by leprosy into society; whether that is by creating rehabilitation programmes and offering vocational training, like Valsa, or raising awareness of health issues in schools, like Sunita.
These inspirational stories are vital in the fight against NTDs. They show that despite the disabilities some face, and the stigma and discrimination that many women affected by an NTD experience, there is another life possible and that life does not end with contracting an NTD. Without women who dedicated their lives to fighting NTDs, we would be much further behind in the fight to eradicate them.