Reframing neglect

Seven African artists showcase images depicting the harsh reality and disproportional impact of neglected tropic diseases (NTDs).

Against a vibrant red backdrop, Aïda Muluneh's The Blind Gaze portrays African women donning white and blue traditional garments with white-painted faces. This evocative composition delves into the multidimensional consequences of so-called neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in post-colonial Africa, including their emotional, mental, and economic toll on the community in terms of gender equity, human rights, and access to health care.

For some, the artwork also provides commentary on the disparity of media attention between issues affecting the Global North and Global South, underscoring the lamentable neglect of the latter.

Muluneh's picture is part of a travelling exhibition which she curated with the aim to highlight the prevalence of NTDs. A group of some 20 conditions – such as onchocerciasis (river blindness), lymphatic filariasis, and Guinea Worm - NTDs affect more than 1.7 billion of the world’s poorest people, blighting communities from Africa to the Americas.

NTDs blind, maim and disfigure their victims, keeping children out of school, adults out of work, and trapping families in poverty. Yet most are preventable or treatable.

Referring to her collection titled The Crimson Echo, Ethiopian-born Muluneh, who both curated and participated in the exhibition, said: “A lot of people do not think about the human element of disease, especially when we talk about Africa. In my collection, I tried to imagine how people really feel: the fear around a specific disease, the reaction of the community, or the cultural elements.”

“This [the exhibition] has become an opportunity for me to share a different way of imagining challenges. [NTDs] are really something that we must eliminate. When we speak about the future of Africa, it must be an Africa that is healthy because disease will really impact the future of the continent,” said Muluneh.

NTDs in numbers

1.7bn people globally affected by NTDs
80% of the burden lies in just 16 countries – most in Africa
47 countries have eliminated at least one NTD
Three countries most affected by NTDs: Nigeria, Ethiopia, DRC.

“A lot of people do not think about the human element of disease, especially when we talk about Africa.” 

Aïda Muluneh, artist and curator, Reframing Neglect

The END Fund, a philanthropic initiative dedicated to ending five of the most common NTDs, commissioned Reframing Neglect, which was launched at the United Nations headquarters in New York on World NTD Day in January 2023.

Speaking at the launch, END Fund CEO Ellen Agler said: “There are so many things in our world that we do not yet have the tools to fix, but NTDs is an example where we have the tools, we have a pathway, and we just need to continue to mobilise.”

The exhibition, which is currently on show in London and is due to travel to the UAE and Saudi Arabia in 2024, has been supported by Reaching the Last Mile (RLM), a portfolio of global health programmes focused on disease elimination.

RLM is driven by the personal commitment of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the president of the UAE, who over the last decade has committed more than US$470m to improving health outcomes for people around the world.

Since its founding in 2012, along with partners, the END Fund has distributed over one billion treatments across 31 countries, performed over 43,000 blindness and disability-preventing surgeries, and trained nearly 3.5 million health workers to pre-empt and treat NTDs.

Reframing Neglect includes photography by Messeret Argaw (b. Ethiopia, 1989), Mustafa Saeed (b. Somalia, b. 1986), Sarah Wasiwa (b. Uganda, 1980), John Kalapo (b. Mali, 1983), Omoregie Osakpolor (b. Nigeria, 1990) and Ala Kheir (b. Sudan, 1985). - PA

The Impact Room

Hear END Fund CEO Ellen Agler discuss NTDs and the decolonisation of global health on The Impact Room, a podcast produced by Philanthropy Age and hosted by Maysa Jalbout.