RBA Initiative: Fighting global antimicrobial resistance
"I have always had a burning desire to become part of the solution to different public health challenges."
Erick Venant, founder of RBA Initiative.
During his studies as a pharmacist, Erick Venant research showed just how much of a threat antimicrobial resistance is to the effectiveness of medicine, contributing to approximately 700,000 deaths every year globally. According to a UN report, if no efforts are taken to slow down and reverse this issue, the number of deaths caused by drug resistance infections could increase to 10 million people annually by the year 2050. He recognised that if this issue continued to grow at the same pace, then those suffering from bacterial infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis, and even more serious diseases such as HIV and Malaria, would be the first to suffer.
With the belief that change begins from the ground up, Erick founded Roll Back Antimicrobials Resistance (RBA) Initiative, to raise awareness and promote the correct use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs within local communities in Tanzania. This is delivered through behavioural change initiatives, supported by a sophisticated approach to local radio and community engagement, and through educational workshops designed to increase awareness of anti-microbial resistance and the everyday actions people can take to reduce its spread. As the organisation covers a mix of rural and urban communities, working with local community members and policy makers alike, all training sessions are adapted different audiences. For example, for school children and community members, RBA's focus in on simplifying the issue and providing easy, everyday steps that help prevent the spread of anti-microbial resistance. Workshops delivered in schools to younger children are focused on learning through arts, craft and song, which are then presented and performed to parents and community leaders.
Erick strongly believes in the power of young people to bring about behaviour change in wider communities, and QCT will be working with him to support the delivery of a new antimicrobial resistance (AMR) School Club programme across three schools in Dodoma, Tanzania. This programme will consist of educating and empowering 50 students within each of the three schools to become agents of change, who in turn will encourage the community to adopt prevention methods such as hand hygiene and sanitation, and raise awareness of the dangers of counterfeit drugs and how to identify them. Once established, RBA Initiative will strive to roll out the AMR School Club programme to more schools across a wider geographical area, to further raise awareness of antimicrobial resistance.
QCT will also work with RBA Initiative to provide advice and guidance on organisational areas including safeguarding and financial management.
Continue reading to learn more about RBA Initiative and hear from Erick himself as he talks about starting out, his proudest moments and shares his top tips for young leaders working to drive positive change.
RBA Initiative works towards SDG 3. Good Health and Well-Being.
Increasing levels of antibiotic and over-the-counter drug misuse is causing increased resistance to medicines. Those who suffer from serious bacterial infections and diseases such as HIV and Malaria – all of which are particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa - are therefore more at risk if medicines become ineffective.
Through awareness programmes and workshops held across both rural and urban communities, RBA Initiative educates healthcare professionals, policy makers and community members alike on anti-microbial resistance and provides simple, effective ways for people to make positive changes to their lifestyles.
RBA Initiative has reached over 3.9m people across Tanzania through local radio campaigns, and has engaged with over 1,700 people through tailored workshops and classroom teaching. Through their School Club programme, they hope to reach a further 150 pupils, developing them as agents of change in the fight against AMR in their own communities.
"The support I am getting from QCT is rare to find; with QCT our organisational systems will be strengthened and improved, which will ensure the sustainability of our work to curb antimicrobial resistance in many years to come. As a founder, that makes me happy and motivates me to keep taking further efforts."
Erick Venant, founder of RBA Initiative
Getting to know Erick Venant
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a young pharmacist currently leading RBA Initiative as the founder and chief executive officer, where I positively contribute to the achievement of organizational goals and values through our work on antimicrobial resistance (AMR). My work has inspired many people to take steps in combating antimicrobial resistance both at national and international level.
I started advocating for antimicrobial resistance and rational use of antimicrobials while I was an undergraduate student studying pharmacy. I have always had a burning desire to become part of the solution to different public health challenges. Whilst still a student, I led a nationwide campaign that successfully brought attention to antimicrobial resistance in schools all over Tanzania. In total, we educated over 49,000 students in 114 secondary schools, across 23 administrative regions. The campaign also empowered student ambassadors to spread the message about antimicrobial resistance within their own communities. To sustain these efforts and build on what we achieved in university, I founded non-governmental organization RBA Initiative, with a dedicated focus to curb antimicrobial resistance.
Why did you decide to work in this area?
During my studies, my research showed just how much of a threat antimicrobial resistance is to the effectiveness of medicine, contributing to approximately 700,000 deaths every year globally. According to a UN report, if no efforts are taken to slow down and reverse this issue, the number of deaths caused by drug resistance infections could increase to 10 million people annually by the year 2050.
I realized that antimicrobial resistance was not being given the required attention it needed, and I felt that the problem was underrated. The growing resistance to life saving drugs galvanised me to find a solution. I thought that starting by raising awareness and educating people about antimicrobial resistance would be a simple measure to take, but equally a very important step to start fighting back. As well as complicating the fight against serious conditions such as HIV and Malaria, many common and treatable diseases are becoming increasingly fatal, such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections. I strongly believe we can all contribute to slowing down this problem by taking simple steps, such as stopping the unnecessary use of medication and antibiotics.
What were your first steps to get the project off the ground?
I first began by documenting the idea, seeking encouragement from people close to me, and identifying and sharing thoughts with my mentor. I then began constructing a team who would be able to support me and help us raise awareness within communities. It was also imperative to work on legal issues, such as registering RBA Initiative as a non-governmental organization, before starting to implement organisational activities.
What challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?
A recurring issue has been lack of funding; most of the projects I have been leading for several years are voluntary activities. However, I have managed to persevere by utilising available and local resources and looked for partnership opportunities to collaborate with different stakeholders.
Ensuring unpaid volunteers remained passionate and motivated to stay as part of a team, whether it be via RBA Initiative or as part of my university campaigns before I became a founder, has also been challenging. By being creative and innovative with the promoting and implementing of local events, people felt empowered by the spirit of serving the community and seeing first-hand the positive change they were creating. I have also leveraged the use of mass media such as radio, to implement and report various activities, which has very much helped keep motivation levels high.
As a young founder, I have found that sometimes I can feel ignored. When working hard to make things happen as a young person, I have always been meeting with different people who could help support and drive my initiative. Some of them may ignore you and see what you are doing as worthless, or they just see that as a young person there is a limit of what you can be able to do or achieve, which can be really demotivating. I have been working to overcome this through by finding myself mentors and positive minded people. Keeping focused on the task at hand, being self-aware and practicing self-motivation has helped, as well as looking back and reflecting on the already achievements I have already accomplished.
Despite this, through all the challenging times, I have remained unwaveringly committed to RBA Initiative, and have sustained efforts by working hard, devoting myself to ensure that positive things happen.
What has been your proudest moment with this work?
Receiving the Princess Diana Legacy award for my work is one of my proudest moments. The award was designed to celebrate the achievements of outstanding young leaders and role models from across the world, who have demonstrated their ability to inspire and mobilise new generations to service their communities. I was honoured to be selected as one of these for my work on antimicrobial resistance.
What is the most important thing you’ve learnt?
That if you work diligently and keep focused, you can achieve your goals.
What are your future goals for RBA Initiative?
Through RBA Initiative, we want to bring the message about the dangers of microbial resistance and the importance of good stewardship towards prescribed and over-the-counter drugs, , to more people within our country. We also plan to expand our antimicrobial resistance clubs to more schools and young students across Tanzania. We foresee establishing and collaborating with other like-minded groups in different countries as an important aspect of our future work, because antimicrobial resistance is a problem with no borders. We want to keep providing solutions on solving this public health threat through fulfilling our organization mission and vision.
Why do you think it’s important for young people to be equal partners in driving change in the world?
Being equal partners in driving change means giving young people the opportunity feel valued and recognised in decision-making. It is vital that young people are encouraged to make suggestions and decisions. It is in this kind of partnership that the contribution of young people can be valued and recognized properly. Making us part of the solution and providing a platform for our innovative ideas will help shape a better world for future generations to come.
What are your top 3 tips for young people who have a great idea, but are wondering how to get started?
1. Get started. Start with what you have. Use local and available resources, start with small interventions and have self-motivation. Take calculated risks and focus on what you believe is right.
2. Know your strengths. Know the positive impact of what you can offer as a young person: knowing your strengths and how can they be transformed for the well-being of the society will be key for motivation and success.
3. Seek mentorship. Having mentors who are always able and willing to devote time to help you progress makes a huge difference in your abilities as a young leader.
What does working with QCT mean to you?
QCT is working with young people and not just for young people. It means a lot to be an effective and equal partner in driving positive change, and I am very glad to see QCT has confidence in young people. The support I am getting from QCT is rare to find; with QCT our organisational systems will be strengthened and improved, which will ensure the sustainability of our work to curb antimicrobial resistance in many years to come. As a founder, that makes me happy and motivates me to keep taking further efforts. With QCT we will be able to work in full partnership while envisioning, developing, implementing, and evaluating RBA initiative’s work.
Article pubished: May 2020
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