Jun 19, 2015
By: Warren Lancaster, Senior Vice President, Programs
I don’t recall writing you a letter before and I know you won’t read this one, but Father’s Day is coming up and even though I was only 12 when I lost you I thought I would write to you to tell you what I do and why.
Worldwide, over 1.4 billion people are infected by at least one of five diseases that cause terrible suffering, especially for children. They cause blindness, physical disability, and organ damage. They result in kids missing school and lost time to farm. But the amazing thing is that there are medicines that prevent and treat all of these diseases usually with a single dose annually. These medicines are generously donated free of charge by international pharmaceutical companies – enough to treat everyone who needs it.
My job is to help governments distribute these medicines to millions of people every year (I hope my great grandmother is pleased after her health work in the pioneering days of New Zealand, I hope it’s in the genes). You would probably ask me why they need my help if the medicines are free. If the medicines are going to be effective in reducing disease in whole communities, we have to try and reach and treat everyone, just like with measles or polio. So although the medicines are free, there is still considerable expense to distribute them – “the last mile”, although it is often hundreds of miles, to the remotest parts of the continent in order to reach everyone. Many governments just don’t have the resources to mount such a massive campaign.
That’s where I come in. The END Fund raises funds for the purpose of financing the distribution of these medicines to people most in need. I am responsible for the team that is charged with spending these funds in the best way possible to treat as many people as we can, using the highest standards. It sounds easy but it’s pretty complicated to get the medicines to the right place at the right time in the right quantities.
As I pour over maps determining who needs treatment and where and study the placement of schools and health clinics to see if they are sufficient to reach the entire community, I especially think about the many children who are not in school in the countries in which I work, and how we can treat them as they are already disadvantaged. I pay particular attention to pregnant mothers because these diseases, especially worms, affect nutrition and anaemia. Sadly, we often find that they are the most difficult group to reach.
To reach as many of these people as possible, we rely on non-medical people like teachers and community members to distribute pills (you probably remember mum deworming me as a young child).
Why am I doing this work? Well firstly I do it because I feel it’s my vocation – a word that is not used a lot these days, but that’s how I see it. I do it because I want to help people. And it may be selfish, but I do it because I want to make a real difference in the world through my life. I hope that some of these are values you instilled in me. I could be doing other development work, but these NTDs affect so many people and they can be treated at such low cost (about 50 cents per person per year) it is utterly compelling.
You were what we now popularly call, an entrepreneur and would understand immediately the huge return on such a small investment: many more healthy and alert kids in school free of worms; people not going blind from being bitten by a black fly or infected with trachoma bacteria; women and men not becoming disabled with hugely extended limbs after being infected by mosquitos; families infection free from bladder parasites they acquired because they have no alternative but to bathe and play in infected water.
It’s not all smooth sailing, but this has captured my heart and I cannot think of anything I would rather do. I can not really explain the feeling I have each day knowing that I am involved in this great endeavour. These diseases, which only affect neglected people, could be gone in my lifetime, that’s why I press on doing this work.
Dad, I think you would be proud of what I do.