By: Abbey Turtinen, Associate, External Relations
We were at the mercy of the mountain. During our week-long trek on Kilimanjaro (my second in a row), our guides continually stressed “you can’t make predictions on the mountain.” The ever-changing weather, the somewhat-unpredictable effects of the altitude, and our aching muscles brought this point home and made us even more grateful for the expert guides, porters, and cooks that carried us up the mountain – literally and figuratively.
Hiking Kilimanjaro is a humbling experience. But each climber on our END Fund team of 16 embraced the challenge in order to raise funds and awareness for the more than 1.6 billion people in the world who are affected by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) – and to fulfill the personal goal of standing on the “roof of Africa.” This year, our group included climbers from the UAE, UK, US, and Kenya – and especially meaningful for me – my brother, Alex.
Although we began as strangers, we quickly became friends as we pushed on through five different climate zones. We started trekking through the misty rainforest and soon we were climbing above the clouds. We hiked the majority of each day, scaling rocks while going “pole pole” – Swahili for slowly, slowly. And after hiking for hours, as the sun was just beginning to set, we wearily walked into camp, changed out of our hiking boots, drank hot chocolate and watched the sun disappear beyond the lush Tanzanian landscape.
When we reached the summit of Kilimanjaro after 5 ½ days of hiking, it was magnificent.
On the day after we descended, we were joined by END Fund partners from the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology (KCCO) for NTD Learning Day to talk about efforts to treat and prevent NTDs in one of the rural communities surrounding Kilimanjaro.
We observed the mass drug administration (MDA) of antibiotics to treat people infected by trachoma, a disease that, with repeat infection, turns the eyelashes inward and ultimately causes people to “blink themselves blind.” We also witnessed a trichiasis surgery to treat a patient with advanced trachoma. It is a simple 15-minute surgery that prevents any further damage to the patient’s eye by reversing the eyelashes that have turned inward. Special thanks to our partners in Tanzania for planning and sharing such an impactful day about the true collaboration needed for disease control.
From our high altitude climbing specialists, Kandoo Adventures, to the porters on the mountain and my fellow climbers, hiking Kilimanjaro was truly a group effort and reminded me that a similar collective effort is needed to end NTDs.