Working to end neglected tropical diseases in our lifetimes


This article originally appeared on Olam’s blog.  1.7 billion people – or 1 in 5 globally – are affected by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Despite this, they remain a relatively unknown burden that are yet to be effectively tackled. Olam – comprising  Olam Food Ingredients (OFI) and Olam Global Agri (OGA)  – has partnered with…

This article originally appeared on Olam’s blog

1.7 billion people – or 1 in 5 globally – are affected by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Despite this, they remain a relatively unknown burden that are yet to be effectively tackled.

Olam – comprising  Olam Food Ingredients (OFI) and Olam Global Agri (OGA)  – has partnered with The END Fund – the only private philanthropic initiative solely dedicated to ending the most common NTDs – to improve the lives of people affected by these diseases. Together, we have been working across Olam’s various supply chains in Africa – particularly cashew, as well as rice, grains, and other ingredients – to solve the burden of these diseases.

Time to talk about NTDs

NTDs are a group of parasitic and bacterial infectious diseases, such as intestinal worms, schistosomiasis (bilharzia), trachoma, etc. Did you know that NTDs affect more than 1.7 billion people worldwide, with over 40% of the global burden in Africa alone? People living with these diseases have to deal with severe pain, long-term disabilities and stigmatisation. Moreover, many infected people are often trapped in a cycle of poverty as they are unable to provide for themselves or their families.

Despite NTDs being widespread, treatment is relatively inexpensive and simple to implement. Just US$0.50 per person each year in medication can help treat five of the most common NTDs. This low-cost intervention can significantly improve the lives of people affected by NTDs because of the huge health, education, and economic benefits. Specifically, NTD treatments have been shown to increase an adult’s earning potential by 20%.

Collaborating for greater impact

To achieve its goal, The END Fund embraces collaboration with a wide spectrum of partners and stakeholders, including private sector businesses to drive maximum reach and impact.

One such partner was Olam. In 2019, Olam and The END Fund entered a partnership to advance the goal of ending NTDs.

Olam’s extensive footprint across Africa, long-standing relationships with farmers and local communities, and commitment to promoting health and wellbeing, made for a perfect mutual fit. The partnership enhanced the focus on NTD control as part of Olam’s Healthy Living Campaign, created to promote health and nutrition among Olam’s employees, farmers and community members across the globe.

Speaking about the partnership, Oyetola Oduyemi, Director Public Affairs – Africa Region at The END Fund, said “We are delighted to partner with Olam in tackling NTDs. Our collaboration to date has been beneficial, with the END Fund working with Olam to build optimal linkages that enable good health and wellness for its stakeholders especially in the area of endemic NTDs. It has also highlighted the importance of adopting a holistic approach to tackling these diseases, and we look forward to working more closely with Olam, as we co-create a sustainable and empowered future, free of the burden and suffering caused by the NTDs.”

Sarah Rawson, Senior Strategist, Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability at Olam International, added “Health is a non-negotiable priority for Olam wherever we operate, and we’ve seen that more than ever with COVID-19. Operating right at farm-gate in many African markets, we have seen first-hand the devastating toll that less visible diseases like NTDs can have on farmers and their families – on health, work capacity and livelihoods. The END Fund’s deep knowledge of NTDs, relationships with Ministries of Health and its ability to offer sound technical advice made our partnership an easy decision. We will continue to reimagine with our partners how we can help communities improve their health as a necessary building block for economic resilience.”

A Community Health Worker hands out treatments during a mass drug administration in Nigeria.
A Community Health Worker hands out treatments during a mass drug administration in Nigeria.
Raising awareness, building healthy communities

To date, Olam and The END Fund have worked on several successful projects that improved the health of many communities in Africa.

In Kwara state, Nigeria, where River Blindness and Schistosomiasis are prevalent, Olam and The END Fund teamed up with the national health authorities to treat more than 1,800 individuals from OFI’s cashew supply chain in November 2019. This was done through awareness campaigns and supporting advocacy efforts in support of the national Mass Drug Administration (MDA) exercise using field extension agents deployed to communities to encourage farmers and their families to seek the free treatment provided by the government. Similar efforts have been deployed across other business units such as Olam’s rice team in Nigeria which similarly collaborated with the Benue State Ministry of Health and Human Services and The END Fund to treat 16,000 people in rice-farming areas of River Blindness and Schistosomiasis.

Salimontu Monliki, a cashew farmer supplying Olam Nigeria said, “The drugs provided by the exercise have been effective in preventing River Blindness and other common diseases in our community. We are so thankful for the increased convenience and that we no longer need to travel to the city to get medication and treatment. We hope that the current free of charge drug administration will continue.”

In Dakar region, Senegal, with The END Fund’s guidance and support, Olam treated over 630 children for intestinal worms in 2019. The children were from an orphanage and an under-resourced hospital located in neighbouring communities, as well as children from MAMIE families (Making African Mothers Independent Entrepreneurs), one of Olam Senegal’s sustainability initiatives. Some 250 caregivers, teachers, and parents, including employees, also attended free sessions to learn more about intestinal worms, how they are contracted and how to prevent the disease.

A post session survey that was developed by the partnership showed a marked improvement in understanding of the disease, with 93% of caregivers, older children, and providers knowing the relevant information about intestinal worms as compared to only 13% before the session. This was similarly reflected at the orphanage, where 100% of the children surveyed after treatment showed the requisite understanding, up from 29% before.

In 2020, Olam Nuts further supported the distribution of deworming tablets to nearly 400,000 children under five in cashew-growing communities in Cote d’Ivoire, as part of a partnership with the National Nutrition Programme.

Eliminating NTDs in our lifetime

With the World Health Assembly endorsing the new road map targets for NTDs for 2021-2030, we can be hopeful that NTDs can and will be eliminated in our lifetime as Olam and The End Fund work together towards this goal.

In 2021, Olam aims to continue supporting national efforts to control NTDs, increase access to clean water and improve sanitation levels as unclean water and poor sanitation contributes to the NTD burden.

The END Fund remains committed to accelerating progress towards control and elimination goals in alignment with WHO targets, for the five most prevalent NTDs through technical support and granting to NTD program implementing partners. Advocacy, communications, and strategic engagement efforts will be utilised to increase prioritisation, funding, and implementation of local NTD control and elimination programmes.

The targets set by the WHO cannot be achieved by any one actor. Public-private partnerships such as Olam and The END Fund’s collaboration are essential to help detect, treat, prevent, and eradicate NTDs. Together, we have the necessary tools and resources to access some of the most vulnerable communities and help eliminate NTDs.