By Kudzai Gurure
It was Sunday the 7th of July, 2019 when I woke up before the break of dawn, adrenalin already pumping through my veins in anticipation of one of the biggest marathons between the Zambezi and Limpopo; The Econet Victoria Falls Marathon.
Rodrick, my relay fellow Global Shaper, and I had arrived in the small but luxurious town of Victoria Falls the previous morning and dashed to register for the big race. Our duo was all set to represent the Global Shapers Harare Hub in the race. Finally the big day was here and with pride we donned our relay team gear which was of a majestic deep purple colour.
By 6:30am we were both at our respective stations for the relay. I was stationed at the Kingdom Hotel, the starting point. There was so much excitement that I could feel the euphoria in the air or maybe it was just the morning chill nipping at my skin.
We were now all set to race to see the END of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). The Global Shapers Harare's long-time partner, the END Fund had made it possible for us to be running for this cause. At 7:15am I was off! Off with a burst of energy for the first half of the 21km route. With the enjoyment of crossing the Zambezi river bridge a little into Zambia then back, l managed to push and pass the baton to my partner Rodrick who happens to be our hub's Media and Marketing Director. His race had started back in Harare. He had initiated and led an amazing social media campaign for the same cause, fighting against NTDs. Rodrick said his part was not easy, the terrain was new and challenging. Dirt roads in the National Park and gruelling inclines towards the Safari Hotel were not child’s play.
Funny and scary at the same time; elephants also wanted some of the action somewhere along the route. Park rangers had to fire one or two shots in the air to keep the jumbos away from the runners. After much sweat and effort, Rodrick managed to finish strong for the team and we completed the race in 02:23:45 in position 29 out of 86. As the saying goes, team work makes the dream work. Indeed it was all fun after all. After crossing the finishing line it was not time to catch a breath, but rather time to work. My partner and l along with a fellow volunteer; a youthful Victoria Falls resident, stood guard of a well branded stand and gazebo. There we engaged and interacted with scores of patrons of the iconic marathon. With the help of well-crafted brochures, we taught people on NTDs and the fight to end them. We also encouraged our audience to join in the fight through ways possible to them.
A Facebook illustration banner brought so much attention to our stand and hundreds jostled to capture images with it. On it was a message on NTDs thus our goal was here reached through the sharing of the images. T-shirts and writing pens were the gifts we gave away during the lucky-dip part of our interactions and we sure brought smiles to many faces whilst spreading the message at the same time. Victoria Falls for us was work and play and we are grateful to The ENDFund for sponsoring our participation and all materials used during the entire campaign. Merging fun with education, we reached out to a combined number of over 13 000 people. This number taking into account the ripple effect of social media.
Now, the background to all this; together the Global Shapers Harare Hub and the END Fund has for a while teamed up to fight these Neglected Tropical Diseases which affect 1.5 billion people around the world with 62% of the Zimbabwean population being affected by them. Malaria is the most prevalent tropical disease and as a result it has received a lot of attention, but there are other tropical diseases that are less know but are just as threatening. These are termed Neglected Tropical Diseases – NTDs. Some of these diseases include visceral leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (bilharzia), soil-transmitted helminths (intestinal worms), trachoma, and leprosy. These diseases are mostly caused by bacteria, fungi and parasitic organisms that abound in impoverished areas.
Last year, the END Fund facilitated the treatment of over 130 million people but there are still millions more in need of treatment and this is why we continue in the fight against NTDs. The effects of these diseases are widespread with loss of well- being, social isolation and increased poverty. With regard to SDG 3 for Good Health and Well-being, The Global Shapers Harare Hub through its Public Health pillar will continue to fight to end the epidemics of malaria, neglected tropical diseases, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases. We hope that you will be inspired to join the fight too. At Victoria falls, we raced to see the end of NTDs and in our lifetime we will continue the fight for the same.