From disability to blindness, the chronic impacts of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) can be debilitating and stigmatizing — and they continue to mostly impact the world’s poorest and most marginalized populations. Women and girls often disproportionately feel the impacts of NTDs due to a variety of social, cultural, and economic factors. 

While women suffer from the debilitating effects and social consequences of NTDs, they are also playing a crucial role in the fight to beat these devastating diseases. From pioneering research efforts, to leading countries’ in their work to build sustainable NTD programming, many women are stepping up to lead the charge in controlling and eliminating NTDs. 

Supporting Homegrown Science


Pelagie analyzes mosquitoes for the presence of the parasite that causes a neglected disease called lymphatic filariasis. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pelagie Boko-Collins

In Benin, entomologist Pelagie Boko-Collins saw a huge gap in the country’s approach to NTD research. 

“In Benin, I’d say 95 percent of our entomology research is focused on malaria vector control,” she said. “This field can’t just be malaria, malaria, and more malaria. Mosquitoes — they transmit so many other diseases.” – Pelagie Boko-Collins

In a country where nearly 4 million people were at risk of contracting lymphatic filariasis (LF), a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that can cause severe swelling and disability, much of the population is unaware of the disease and its effects. Through funding from USAID’s Coalition for Operational Research (COR-NTD) Program ‘African Researchers’ Small Grants Program’, Pelagie worked on a strategy for diagnosing LF that involves testing mosquitoes for the parasite in areas believed to no longer be endemic. This approach is a potential alternative to blood testing post-elimination, which is seen as invasive by some. Pelagie’s work helps create better diagnostics for LF and ensures communities better understand the disease.

Forging a Path for NTD Sustainability

Dr. Joyce Aryee, Ghana’s NTD Ambassador shares how national neglected tropical disease programs can become sustainable for the long term.
Photo Credit: Act to End NTDs West / FHI360

Dr. Joyce Aryee, Ghana’s NTD ambassador, knows well the importance of a holistic, sustainable approach to NTD programming. For the Ghana NTD program, multi-sector collaboration is essential for integrating NTD activities into Ghana’s national health system in order to better control and eliminate NTDs. USAID works with Ghana through the Act to End NTDs West program. 

“Through policy and through coordination with the ministries we will be able to overcome the incidences of the diseases.” – Dr. Aryee

Engaging with key stakeholders and sectors, Dr. Aryee has played a major role in increasing NTD visibility, with no plans of slowing down her efforts. This year she is continuing to raise the profile of Ghana’s NTD sustainability plan among government officials, other sectors, and international donors. 

Fighting NTDs at Home


Wita works as a monitoring & evaluation specialist on USAID’s Act to End NTDs | East program.
Photo Credit: RTI International

In Indonesia, where over 95% of community drug distributors (CDDs) are women, Wita Larasati has seen first-hand the important role women play in beating NTDs. As a monitoring and evaluation specialist for  USAID’s NTD programs in Indonesia , Wita understood the devastating impacts lymphatic filariasis (LF) had on her community. Yet, she felt a desire to do even more, believing it was her personal responsibility to play a part in ensuring the success of mass NTD treatment campaigns in her own community.

“Women play a key role in ensuring our families stay healthy. So it’s very important that women feel comfortable taking the treatment. As a woman, I know I can help to influence and educate my friends and neighbors to take the drugs and ensure their families do the same.” -Wita Larasati

 Knocking on her neighbors’ doors, Wita explained how and when to take the medications and the importance of taking the drug to prevent LF, even if one felt healthy. 

“Most women are out in their communities purely as volunteers. They not only contribute to drug distributions, but many also educate and support their communities on a wide variety of health issues…” – Wita Larasati

Wita’s own experiences as a CDD have shaped her work on the USAID Act to End NTD East program, helping to inform the training and supervision of mass drug administrations. 

Across the world, women are at the center of NTD progress. They are working tirelessly as government leaders, scientists, and trusted community volunteers in the fight to beat NTDs while helping minimize the devastating impact they have on the world’s poorest communities. Yet women are often still underrepresented in the NTD workforce, especially in leadership positions. It is clear that women are instrumental in the fight to beat NTDs — but there is opportunity to continue to empower, and bolster, women and girls in global efforts to eliminate NTDs.

Learn more about how USAID’s Act to End NTD East Program is working to facilitate more equitable, efficient, and effective NTD strategies and activities that encourage women’s active participation in NTD programming.

Authored by: Curran McSwigan, STAR Health Communications and Public Affairs Fellow