By Yacine Djibo, Executive Director of Speak Up Africa
Speak Up Africa is an African-led, strategic communications and advocacy not for profit organization whose objectives are to catalyze leadership, enable policy change, and increase awareness for sustainable development in Africa. Founded in 2011 and based in Dakar, Speak Up Africa has made deep inroads into the West African health advocacy space with its flagship work in Senegal, relationships with key decision makers, and diverse regional activities. Speak Up Africa’s work spans various issues including sanitation, malaria, Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), immunization and most recently COVID-19. The organization has programs in Senegal, Niger, Guinea, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Sierra Leone, and Cote d’Ivoire.
The pillars of Speak Up Africa’s work include fostering political engagement, private sector involvement and community awareness and ownership. Through Speak Up Africa’s platforms and relationships and with the help of our partners, they ensure that policy makers meet implementers; that solutions are showcased and that every sector – from individual citizens and civil society groups to global donors and business leaders – contributes critically to the dialogue and strives to form the blueprints for concrete action for public health and sustainable development. In this article, on Speak Up Africa’s 9th year anniversary, we look at some of the areas they have worked in and how through their activities and strong partnerships and collaborations have helped, “Advocate. Enable. Engage.” for a healthier and more prosperous Africa.
Speak Up Africa believes that the best solutions are those that involve different levels of society. In November 2018, Speak Up Africa launched, the “No to NTDs” movement bringing together individuals, political leaders, private sector companies and civil society organizations (CSOs) to increase awareness, prioritization and national commitment to accelerate the control and elimination of NTDs in Africa. Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) affect more than 1.5 billion people annually, causing death, blindness, disfigurement, chronic pain, cognitive impairment, and other long-term disabilities. 47 countries in the African Region are endemic for at least one NTD and 37 of them (79%) are co-endemic for at least five of these diseases.
Among other successes, the “No to NTDs” movement leveraged the African Union Summit held in Niamey, Niger to provide African leaders with a platform to assess the progress toward NTD elimination on the continent. The movement also created the first African CSO coalition on NTDs “Civil Society says No to NTDs Network” a connected, integrated, collaborative African CSO network, that builds CSO capacity to develop and implement locally relevant advocacy strategies, and engage political leaders on policy and budget support for sustainable NTD control and elimination programs.
Sometimes the best solutions start at national level and their success leads to uptake on a regional level. In 2014, Speak Up Africa, PATH and the Ministry of Health of Senegal launched “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” to foster community ownership of antimalaria efforts, increase cross-sector collaboration, and improve the quality of information. The campaign was based on 3 pillars: Bolstering political commitment at all levels of government, mobilizing Senegal’s private sector to create new partnerships and increasing community awareness and ownership of the issue. For some context on the devastating impact that malaria has had on the continent, every 2 minutes, a child dies of malaria. And each year, more than 200 million new cases of the disease are reported. Africa carries a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2018, the region was home to 94% of malaria deaths. Children under 5 years of age are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria. In 2018, they accounted for 67% (272 000) of all malaria deaths worldwide.
Inspired by the success of the “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” campaign in Senegal, the African Union Commission and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria launched a continent-wide “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” movement, which was endorsed by the 55 African Heads of State and Government. To date, 14 countries have launched the “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” campaign at national level. With the support of Comic Relief and GSK, Speak Up Africa in collaboration with the RBM Partnership, supports Ghana and Sierra Leone in the implementation of the “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” campaign from July 2019 to December 2020. “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” becomes the official theme for the celebration of World Malaria Day 2019 and 2020.
A key part of creating a healthier and more prosperous Africa, is addressing issues in sanitation that affect majority of the continent. Today, about 4.5 billion people, more than half the world’s population, use sanitation facilities and services where the disposal of waste is not safely managed. This is a particular problem in Africa, where 1 in 3 people still live without adequate sanitation facilities, with this number rising to 75% in the West African region. The Golden Sludge movement was launched in 2016 by Speak Up Africa, working in close collaboration with national institutions directly responsible for the development and implementation of sanitation programs. It aims to increase awareness, prioritization levels, as well as regional, national, municipal, media and civil society commitment to improve access to adequate and equitable sanitation for all in Africa by 2030. In 2019, as part of CAPOOP, (the Communications, Advocacy & Policy Opportunities & Outreach for Poop), Speak Up Africa launched a sanitation media fellowship, to build the capacity of journalists in reporting on sanitation issues and through their reporting help to improve access to sanitation.
An important and often overlooked part of hygiene is menstrual hygiene. In 2016, Speak Up Africa launched the “No Taboo Periods” campaign, as part of an inclusive national strategy centered around various aspects of promotion of the status of women, poverty reduction, health, access to clean drinking water and availability of suitable sanitation facilities. For millions of women and girls in Africa, menstruation is a monthly reality. Yet in many countries, people still face serious challenges when it comes to managing their periods. Myths, stigma and harmful gender norms around menstruation exacerbate the difficulties for girls and women across the continent. Women and young girls’ lack of access to clean and secure restrooms during their periods, perpetuates shame and fear.
The “No Taboo Periods” campaign aims to raise awareness of the role played by menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in empowering girls and women to reach their full potential. Based on the results from the formative research, Speak Up Africa created a safe haven for women, girls, boys and men to freely discuss and exchange on issues related to menstrual hygiene management. The Speak Up Africa Lab was located in Pikine, in the suburbs of Dakar where the majority of the population lives with less than $2 US a day. The success of the work in Senegal caught the attention of the First Lady of Sierra Leone, her Excellency Sia Nyama Koroma. In August 2017, Speak Up Africa was invited to participate in the National Girls’ Camp organized by the Office of The First Lady in order to facilitate a workshop on menstrual hygiene management.
The examples of the work mentioned is only a small subset of what Speak Up Africa’s engages on and highlights some of the key work undertaken in championing reforms in public health and sustainable development in Africa. Additionally, Speak Up Africa also celebrates the work of leaders making positive strides in sustainable development across different spheres of society. In 2019, Speak Up Africa launched its first-ever Leadership Award, that aims to recognize and celebrate individuals and organizations that demonstrate exemplary leadership in sustainable development and bring a positive impact in their work and initiatives in Africa. This year’s awardees include stakeholders across government, civil society and private sector for their leadership and responses to end malaria and NTDs and stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.