SciDev.Net – through its Script training programme – has given some important communication lessons to journalists and researchers in Tanzania to help them better tell the story of the risks posed by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

Dr Charles Wendo, SciDev.Net’s training coordinator, delivered a three-day workshop at the request of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) which was set up to develop safe, effective, and affordable new treatments for NTDs.

These include NTDs that are caused by parasitic worms (helminths). Other NTDs of concern for DNDi include Hepatitis C, Cutaneous leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease as well as Filaria: river blindness, Dengue and Mycetoma.

Develop new drugs for infections caused by parasitic worms

The workshop was organized by the Ifakara Health Institute and DNDi and was conducted by SciDev.Net in Bagamoyo as part of the Helminth Elimination Platform (HELP) consortium set up in 2019 to develop new drugs for infections caused by parasitic worms.

For example, DNDi has been partnering with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and the HELP consortium to develop new treatments for river blindness (onchocerciasis) in Eastern Africa. Approximately 19 million people are living with river blindness, and 240 million people are at risk of contracting the disease.

Sabine Specht, Head of Filarial Disease programme at DNDi said, “Globally, more than one billion people are suffering from a range of serious but overlooked conditions, referred to as NTD. An additional 600 million people are at a risk of neglected tropical diseases. Therefore, the number of people that are immediately in need of some form of intervention to either treat or prevent neglected tropical diseases is 1.6 billion.

“These diseases are commonest in the tropics and are caused by a range of viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and toxins. They affect mostly poor people, where they worsen an already bad socio-economic situation. The occurrence of these diseases is associated with stigma.”

DNDO training

Dr Charles Wendo delivers the communication training to journalists and researchers (Credit: Saburi Ismail Seif – DNDi).

“However, these diseases have not received adequate attention. They are neglected in funding, research, and public health programming. One of DNDi’s strategies is to raise awareness among the public, policymakers, and practitioners about neglected diseases.”

Raising awareness about neglected tropical diseases

The first day of training focussed on communicating the science of neglected diseases and included teaching on how to simplify the science and make it relatable to various audiences. The day’s learnings also covered how to write an expert opinion article for the media.

Day two looked at reporting the science of neglected diseases and saw Dr Wendo teach participants how to ask the right questions to get a great story as part of an interview with researchers’ scenario.

Also, Sabine Specht, DNDi Head of Filarial Disease, introduced tropical diseases, and Jennifer Keiser, Professor at Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and coordinator of the HELP consortium, presented on clinical trials.

The third day involved networking and collaboration. This included a visit to clinical trial laboratories at the Ifakara Health Institute in Bagamoyo, a ‘speed dating’ session between scientists and journalists – where researchers could practice ‘selling’ their science stories to reporters – and a roundtable discussion on NTDs.

Speakers at the roundtable discussion included Honorati Masanja, Director of Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania; Conradin Cramer, Minister of Education in the Government Basel-Stadt, Switzerland; Andrea Schenker-Wicki, President of the University of Basel, Switzerland; Jürg Utzinger, Director of Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute; Jennifer Keiser, head of the Helminth Drug Development unit at Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and Sabine Specht, Head of Filarial Disease programme at DNDi.

Rachel Chacha, from TVE television channel and EFM Radio, said, “I was intrigued by the presentation on helminth infections and developed an interest in studies on worms and the connection between other diseases. It is important that we build connections with scientists for future interviews as key sources of information.”

Dr Wendo added that the training delivered arms scientists and journalists with the knowledge, skill, and contacts they need to disseminate research findings and innovations to policymakers and public through the media.

“It leads to more research being reported in the media. This means the public and policymakers get to know more about research on neglected tropical diseases, and most likely make personal and policy decisions based on scientific evidence. Thus, neglected tropical decisions get more attention than before,” he said.

DNDI Photo 3

Important communication lessons were given to journalists and researchers in Tanzania to help them better tell the story of the risks posed by neglected tropical diseases (Credit: Saburi Ismail Seif – DNDi).

Additional information

Main image: Participants of the SciDev.Net communications training put their interviewing skills to the test as part of the ‘speed dating’ session (Credit: Saburi Ismail Seif – DNDi).

See also the story published by DNDi ‘Empowering Tanzanian journalists and researchers in science communication.’

About Script

Script provides tailored research communication training to research organizations and institutions. They equip researchers with the skills they need to communicate their research more effectively to non-specialist audiences. To learn more visit:


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